Monday, August 29, 2011

Your Parent's Move Prompts Grief, Relief, or Both, Part 1

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.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Write a Great Thank-You Note to Your Parent's Caregiver

So many word searches from my readers--and would-be readers--include phrases like, "How do I write a thank-you letter to my parent's caregiver?" Here are my thoughts.

First, congratulations on desiring to show appreciation for your parent's caregiver. Saying "Thank you" is something you can do daily. Writing is even better! Read and reread, your thank-you letters are valued by your parent's caregiver, shared with his or her family and often with coworkers.

Second, thank-you letters aren't hard to write. They are similar to a professional recommendation. You'll start by brainstorming. Think about the specific acts of kindness you've seen your parent's caregiver perform. Some examples are: "I love how you dress Mom in her favorite colors, and style her hair with matching hair clips." Or "I enjoy how you remember to turn on the television to the major league baseball game which Dad so enjoys." Or "When I mention your name to Mom, her eyes light up, because you make her feel special."

Third, think about specific character qualities you've observed in your parent's caregiver: compassion, humor, dedication, patience. Soon concrete examples of these character traits will spring to mind.

Fourth, write a rough draft. Be warm and sincere. If appropriate, you may want to run the rough draft by your parent for his or her input. Don't hesitate to ask a friend or family member to edit your draft. For the final take, hand write it on a decorative sheet of paper.

Deliver it and see what happens. Chances are good the work you put into this project will pay off!

Have you written a letter to your parent's caregiver?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Eldercare Dilemma: One Parent Says, 'Let's Move,' the Other Says, 'No Way!'

It's a common tug of war. Your elderly mom wants to say goodby to the big house, leaving the driving, shopping, cooking and cleaning behind. Retirement living sounds like a dream come true.

"No way," counters Dad. In his eyes, the house in which they raised you, cared for your pets and babysat your children is fine forever.

Like many men in the Greatest Generation, your dad may resist moving to a retirement community (or getting in-home help). Here's why:

He already lives at home in a retirement community. It has one employee--your mom--who provides everything. He forgets that when he stopped working in his sixties, his wife didn't. Like the EverReady battery, she kept going and going--cooking, cleaning and tending to his needs. Now, years later, she's spent. But he may not see this.

Your dad may think retirement communities aren't for "real men." If he enjoys gardening, woodworking or puttering, he may wonder, "How will I continue to keep busy?" He may not realize that many retirement communities do offer woodshops, gardening areas and poker clubs. Another option: he can continue to help you with your home projects, as he is willing and able.

He may not see the "big picture." Statistically, your mom will probably outlive your dad. He may not want to think about the difficulties she might face in moving alone, especially in the face of grief. Those challenges include choosing the community, selling the home, downsizing, moving, establishing new friendships. If a married couple moves together to a retirement community, the widow's later adjustment is often easier.

So how do you help your parents in making a decision when both are at loggerheads? Although ultimately the "To Move or Not To Move" question is theirs to resolve, you certainly can offer your listening ear and even your opinion, especially if one person doesn't seem to be heard.

Have any of you faced this dilemma, either with your parents or your clients? Tell us about it.
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