Chat @ Care-giving: Knowing When to Just Say No

I haven’t been the perfect kid, but more often than not, even when I couldn’t be obedient to what my parents wanted, I at least wanted to be respectful. After five decades of this, I’m not really very good at disagreeing with them.

This is probably the reason it took me so long to convince them to move into a retirement center.  However, in spite of the resistance I dealt with, I didn’t have to face any challenges like, “You never listen to what I say,” because they knew I really do listen and care deeply.

In the weeks immediately before they moved, I was hyper-sensitive to them.  I didn’t want a petty disagreement over something trivial to turn into a showdown about their impending lifestyle change.  However, once they were moved in I had to toughen up.

The first thing I had to put my foot down about was Mom “helping” me get ready for the estate sale.  Let me tell you, when faced with forty years of collected clutter, you’re going to want to have all the help you can get.  Friends, siblings, spouses and even hired help can be of great assistance, but not your mom (or dad or aunt or whatever).

The first person who benefited from my adamant refusal to let Mom help me was Mom.  She had been reluctant to move to retirement living and daily visits to her old home to clear out closets would only have depressed her further.   Leaving a house or giving up a home is a hard thing to do, even if you are excited about where you are moving to or the reasons for the move.  If the move is one you didn’t want to make in the first place, one that was forced on you by old age, the regret is going to be even stronger.

However, there was an even more important reason to exclude her from the project.  You can’t focus on building a new life when you’re caught up in the old.  Mom needed to learn the routine at Whiterock Court.  She needed to figure out her way around the facility.  Most of all she needed to make new friends.  Because she wasn’t at her old house wallowing in memories and grieving over chewed pencils and loose pen caps, she was adjusting to her new life.  At the end of a week or two she had established a regular table of friends to sit with at meals and was keen on making it to bingo at 3:45.

I benefited, also.  I’ll confess that I don’t play well with others.  I like to set my own pace and I don’t delegate well.  I dig into a job and make mid-course adjustments on the fly.  Because I was on my own, I was in charge.  If Mom had been there, I would have had to acquiesce to her wishes.  I would have had to tippy-toe around and be thoughtful of her feelings.  This would have slowed me down and been a continuous source of irritation.

Decisions are easier to make with a committee of one.  Mom is both practical and sentimental – a scary combination.  She saved everything for one or both of those reasons.  Everything, from a tarnished silver champagne cup to an assortment of used plastic combs, had value to her.  My goal was to save anything of significant sentimental value for the family, to collect everything of monetary value for the estate sale and to toss the rest.  I say significant sentimental value, because I was amazed how sentimental I could get about almost everything.  I could only imagine how Mom would have reacted.

When you move someone into a new situation like a retirement center or assisted living facility, for their sake, give them the opportunity to engage fully in their new lifestyle as soon as possible, but you’ll reap the most benefits.  You’ll  move faster through the project and save yourself from an emotional quagmire with no happy endings.  At least, that’s how it worked with me.


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