Do you recall your child's first day of kindergarten? If you're like me, you bit your nails and downed M and M's wondering: Will her teacher be a mix of Mary Poppins and Fraulein Maria? Will the kids like her? Will she return that afternoon wearing a smile?
Fast forward many years. That same angst can return when our elderly parent moves to a retirement community or care setting. When faced with this huge change, will he or she experience grief? Relief? Or some of both? In 16 years of working with seniors and their families, I've seen all of the above.
Grief--For many seniors, the idea of leaving their posessions tears at their soul. One client struggled with downsizing. She said, "Looking through my papers and other stuff reconnects me with what I've done and where I've been. Getting rid of things is like getting rid of part of me." Others grieve their loss of independence, physical strength and self esteem. Seeing walkers, wheelchairs and oxygen tanks in the hallways of their new home reminds them daily of their mortality. Still others grieve the loss of a mate or friends gone by. The new setting may not take those losses away.
Relief--Recently three newly widowed women moved to our retirement community. When each came into my office, the old adage, "Don't make any major changes in the first six months" ran through my mind. I bit my tongue, though. They all settled in. One of them expressed her relief in giving up the care of a big house: "I'm starting a new chapter in my life. I want to do things I've never done before." Even seniors not facing the loss of a spouse may relax by moving into a smaller space, where they can focus on enjoyable activities, and not on chores.
A little of both--That's where many seniors land--sad about leaving familiar things behind yet realizing there may be light at the end of the tunnel. Teary one moment and beaming the next--that, too, is normal. There are some things you can do to help ease the transition.
The next post tackles ways you can help make your parent's move easier.