In August of 2005, Mom & Pop became residents of an Assisted Living facility in North Carolina that I will refer to here as “Wagon Wheel Ranch” (WWR).
I cannot overstate how big a change this was for each of my parents, nor will I pretend to know all of what they must have been thinking. I can give you some of their insights from many conversations.
For my father, who is not one to become attached to places or things, WWR was merely a new place to hang his hat. He didn’t have to mow the lawn or pay bills. He had his 25″ TV and a hundred cable channels to watch. The facility’s 15-passenger van would take him to medical appointments or to Walmart whenever he needed to go. The food was always a sore spot and the nursing care was never adequate in his mind, but on the whole, life was okay.
On the downside, he must’ve been stunned at this turn of events. One minute he’s comfortable in his big ranch home, and now he’s in a 450 square foot efficiency apartment without a kitchen. The fact that it was probably the most beautiful setting to be found was immaterial; he had moved from large to small. This was never his expectation.
For my mother, who is one to set her roots and relationships very deeply, WWR was an unwelcome change. Her friends were on the other side of town. She knew no one here, and the thought of making new friends at this stage of life was daunting. The things she’d acquired and cared for over the years were mostly gone. Her children honestly wondered if moving here was going to kill her.
On the upside, Mom has a way of becoming content, if only on the surface. She may be crying on the inside, but her face shows someone who has made the adjustments and found the way to be comfortable in this new place. For exercise, she walked the halls for an hour each day poking her head into open doors and greeting all within. She endeared herself to residents and staff alike. This is just as it has always been.
For me, the big flurry of activity was just about finished, and I could go more into a maintenance mode. By this I mean that I would make periodic contact with caregivers at every level; that I would lead the team of people looking after my parents. I could go home to Minnesota now, and keep in touch with everyone by phone and e-mail. This worked for about four years.
On the downside, I always had a nagging, guilty feeling. I had warehoused my parents and entrusted their care to hands I thought I knew but really didn’t. I wanted this place to be good for them, but it could never measure up to their own home; to independence; to self-sufficiency. I left them alone in a foreign place to fend for themselves. Maybe this is just a product of my own values. Maybe I had done the best I could for them. Maybe… Maybe…
For their part, my siblings were never more concerned for our parents than now. My sister and brother were supportive at every turn. How awful could it have been if there had been dissention among us. Instead, the experience with our parents drew us into closer relationships with each other.