Chat @ Caregiving: They’re Not Just Things

Today is moving day. We’re not sure where Mom will be moving to, but we do know it won’t be back to independent living.  Under those circumstances, her apartment would be a very expensive place to store things.  The business part of me understands that, but the emotional side is having a tough time.

See her stuff is not just stuff.  Her belongings are a memorial.  Don’t get me wrong.  Mom’s life means a lot more to me than the things she has managed to obtain, but the furnishings of her life do represent the things she loves best. Take all those wardrobe boxes of clothes.  I know right now that she won’t be able to get all of them into the closet of an assisted living apartment, but how do I go about choosing which ones to keep and which to throw away?

Mom grew up in the Depression.  It was tough for everyone, but several things made it tougher for her than it was for some other folks.  Her clothes were the armor she wore to face the world.  If she managed to dress like everyone else, then she felt she would fit in better.  She never told me this, but after decades of her fanatical interest in what I had on, I figured it out.  Multiply that mindset by a career in retail and you know why she has eight wardrobe boxes of clothes, a rolling rack and a couple of boxes and suitcases.  I know it’s been years since she wore some of them, but she’s like the armorer in a castle.  You don’t throw away perfectly good swords just because they go out of style.  You never know when they’ll be just the thing for a certain battle.

Maybe this would have been easier if it hadn’t been just a couple of years ago that I went through the process of downsizing my parents from a house to  a two bedroom apartment.  Now Dad’s gone and the independent phase of Mom’s life is over,  I have to sift through it all again.

In some cases it feels like chopping off my hands.  Dad was a snorer and had long ago been exiled to a separate bedroom.  In the apartment, he slept on the bed they shared during all the years they did sleep together.  I joke that it’s the bed I was conceived in, and Mom’s never corrected me, so maybe I’m right.  To the rest of the world, the bedroom suite is a not-so-gently used collection of mid-century Early American furniture.  Nobody except a homeless shelter had any interest in it. To me, it’s the first time my dad ever bought anything on credit.  He didn’t want to go into debt, so he got a second job to pay off the loan early.  To me, it represented home in all the houses we lived in, as we moved around due to Dad’s job.  I can only imagine what it meant to Mom.  When she asked me what was being done with it, I had to tell her the truth and I could tell it was a physical blow.

Letting go of other items feels like ripping out my heart.  My dad was a sports fanatic.  Not in the sense of being a fan of any particular team.  He was interested in everything from peewee football to the senior golf tour, but baseball was his particular favorite.  He liked to watch baseball, but he liked to hear the commentary on the radio.  How many hours of my life have I watched my dad cheer on the Rangers?  He’d have the TV on and in his ear would be the plug from the radio.  Long before there were sports bars, my dad would line up all the TV’s in the house in the den and have various sports on them – and the earplug would be in his ear.  The radio is in the room of items we plan to donate, but I don’t know if I’ll actually let it go.

And you ask, “So what’s the big deal?  Why don’t you just keep the radio?”  If you did ask that then you’re one of the folks who doesn’t realize just how much stuff I’ve collected from my family in the last few years.  First, from Aunt Edie and then from my parent’s house.  There really is just not enough room for me to keep anything else… but maybe the radio wouldn’t take up so much room after all.

See, the radio has other memories attached to it.  My dad faithfully listened to Rush Limbaugh.  I’m no fan of the self-important blowhard myself, but my dad was. George didn’t use the earplug to listen, so bits and pieces of Limbaugh’s loud mouth opinions were impossible to avoid.  I confess, I now listen to Rush, if he’s on when I’m in the car.  Even if some (certainly not all) of his Conservative views do line up with mine, I detest his presentation.  However, by listening, I can imagine the conversations Dad and I would have – therefore, I listen.

So, it’s moving day today and I know that I’m holding on to more than I should, but how can I let more go?  After all, they’re not just things.

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Chat @ Care-giving: A Vote for Continuing Care Facilities

A few years ago, when I began the search for a retirement facility for my parents, I had a preference for continuing care.  No one else did. So we struck the criteria from the must-have list.

Eventually, we found a great independent living facility and even though Mom moaned and groaned about giving up her home, Whiterock Court proved to be a good place for them – for awhile.

Fast forward a year.  Dad fell and after a month-long hospital battle, he passed away.  Suddenly, Mom’s complaints about “giving up her home” turned into gratitude.  My primary reason for getting them out of the house had been the realization that I could lose either of them at any time.  They were barely getting along in the house together and I knew if I lost either of them, neither of them could stay at home by themselves.  I wanted to avoid having either of them adjust to concurrent lifestyle changes – losing both their life partner and their home at the same time.

For exactly six months I had the luxury of hearing I’d been right to get them out of the house.  Mom realized just how lonely that house would have been without Dad.  She ate meals with her friends, joined a travel club and enjoyed playing bean bag baseball and chickenfoot dominoes.

Then she fell and broke her arm.  A few weeks later, she had congestive heart failure.  For three months our lives were a circus of emergency rooms, hospitals, rehab and skilled nursing.  Now she’s back in her apartment juggling home health care and I’m remembering when I agreed to take continuing care off the must have list.

See, Mom’s not quite ready to give it up and move to assisted living, but she’s not exactly up to independent living either, and the parade of home health care providers marching through her apartment is about to drive her crazy.  Were she in a continuing care facility, the trauma of moving between independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and rehab would be much reduced.  The services she needed would already be right there.  Home health care is great, but it’s not the same as walking into a fully equipped rehab facility.

When I moved Mom and Dad out of their house, I knew I did the right thing, but I wish I’d stuck to my guns when it came to continuing care.  Mom needs to be monitored more closely than home health care can provide, but the mention of assisted living sends her into fits.  I know her emotional stability is as important, if not more important, that her physical condition.  I can’t bring myself to upset her apple cart anymore than it’s already been jostled.

It’s just a matter of time now.  Congestive heart disease is an enemy you can fight, but you can’t win, unless you’re young enough to have the necessary surgery.  Someday, probably sooner rather than later, I’m going to have to disrupt my mother’s life again.  I have to rip her out of a place she’s learned to call home and take her someplace else.  I’ll be disrupting the lives of other people, also.  Fourteen of her friends have moved to Whiterock Court because Mom is there.  It would be so much easier if I could just move her to another part of the facility and know that, if she did improve, we could move her back.  It would be nice if her fourteen friends could walk across a courtyard to see her or have a meal with her.  Instead, they’ll promise to come visit her, but the enormity of the task will keep them away.  They’ll feel guilty and Mom will feel forsaken.

There are drawbacks to continuing care facilities, one of them being a large financial investment.  Most of the money is returned to the family after the resident passes away, but letting go of the money was the hurdle my family members could not tolerate.  Now they stand ready to support me in any decision I make.  I wish they’d felt that way three years ago.

Chat @ Care-giving: Starting the Down-sizing Search

After years of gentle hints, a little cajoling and not a few terse exchanges, Mom finally agreed she and Dad need to downsize. She’s not ready to move yet, you understand, but she will participate in a little research.  I have some knowledge about retirement living.  I’ve discussed it with friends as they made decisions about what to do with their parents over the years.  My favorite aunt lives in a retirement center I frequently visit.  The novel I’m shopping to literary agents is set in a retirement center.  However, I hadn’t started any specific research concerning my parents until I had a green light.  I knew my Mom wouldn’t budge until she was absolutely ready and I didn’t want to waste time collecting information which would become obsolete before I needed it.

Even though I’d anticipated this job for quite a while, actually getting started was somewhat daunting.  Some people would call up a friend or read a book.  I had some materials that I’d casually collected over the year, but I started on the internet.  Typing “dallas retirement living” into my browser returned such a deluge of information that I spent the first few hours shifting through websites to get the lay of the land.  I discovered this task was not dissimilar to finding accommodations for a vacation.  Finding familiar footing, I began in earnest.

Retirement living falls into several categories.  Retirement communities of the Del Webb variety are not what Ruth and George want.  They’re past their days of tennis and golf.  Many apartments for senior citizens are available, but  Mom and Dad need a little more help.  However, they aren’t quite ready to move to assisted living, either.  That narrowed down my choices to independent living and continuing care.  Continuing care means that, whatever level of care they choose now and whatever they need in the future, it’s all there.   This has some reassuring aspects to it, but most of these facilities are vast acreages and I feared they’d be a little overwhelming.  Which left independent living.

Independent living is a catch-all term that might mean anything from an apartment with social activities to facilities barely distinguishable from assisted living.  Many independent living facilities also offer assisted living and perhaps that’s the reason the line between them becomes blurred.  Though I wanted Mom to at least visit a sample of each type of community, I felt our solution would most likely be an independent living facility, which also offered assisted living.  I also thought a continuing care facility would deliver peace of mind, if I could get Mom past the initial shock.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.  After a few hours of research, I felt like I’d taken that step.  As I move forward in this project, I’ll keep you abreast of where we are.  What advice do you have for me?

Chat @ Care-giving: Down-sizing Step Number Two

Having settled in my mind what each of the different categories of retirement living offered, it was time to start selecting properties for the “potential” list. Perhaps the two most important factors to consider are price and location. This seemed familiar to me – and after severals years in residential real estate, it should have.

“Location, location, location,” the old real estate saw, has an silent echo, “price, price, price.”  Thankfully my parents have been wise stewards over the year.  Certainly, price is a consideration, but we do not have to start there.  For many people price is the deciding factor, because it is the only factor that matters.  Ruth and George have a little more leeway, so I was able to focus first on location.

Since I’m the primary care-giver, if I had my way, I’d move Mom and Dad to one of the properties close to me.  There are three very nice ones just moments away from my home.  However, that’s not the only consideration.  Mother is a nervous driver, but she still likes the independence of hopping into the car to pick up a prescription.  She hopes to stay in her neighborhood, so she’ll have familiar streets to navigate on.  Also, her church, her friends and my sister, who also goes to her church, are near her current home.

I absolutely understand her desire to stay in her comfort zone, but there’s one fly in that ointment.  Her neighborhood, East Dallas, is older and long-established, so properties there are not, shall we say, state of the art.  I live in Far North Dallas, close to Plano, where new properties go up every other day.  The choices on my side of town are brand new and considerably more upscale than the choices closer to her.  If I could do whatever I wanted, I’d pick up one the newest independent living/assisted living facilities in my neighborhood and set it down somewhere equidistant between the church, my sister and the guy that’s been doing Mom’s hair since Noah left the ark, but that’s not possible.

So, I chose my sister’s house and my house as points on the map and then drew a large oval around them.  Anything inside that oval is at least a possibility.  Mom may reject them out of hand, but I’ve at least made her aware of them.   Which led to the next step, discovering which properties did fit in that circle.  I chose the best of the best of the apartments, concentrated on properties that offered both independent and assisted living, threw in a few independent living only places and for good measure added all the continuing care properties.  I ended up with thirty-five to forty potential properties to research.

Very satisfied with my progress, I put all my potential properties on an Excel worksheet and patted myself on the back.  But I didn’t rest on my laurels very long.  Now that I had actual realistic targets it was time to move on to the next phase.  It was time to call Mom.  What do you think happened then?

Chat @ Care-giving: Two Days in Traffic

Having finally wrangled cooperation out of Mom, it was time to actually drive by the retirement centers which made my list of potential properties. There were almost forty and I had them divided into roughly three groups of geographically-centered lists.  According to Mapquest, each list was going to take about an hour, but that wouldn’t include all the driving through parking lots and making the block to see something one more time.  Day One we planned to take in the properties closest to her house.  With any luck we’d get the other two lists crammed into Thursday, but if we didn’t, I planned to get it done on Friday after her hair appointment.

Day One was easy.  I put her in the car, gave her a list of the properties we would see and asked her to make any notes she wanted to on the list.  I’m glad I wasn’t trying to sell her a house.  If my real estate clients had been as stingy with their comments as my Mom was with hers, I would have never sold a single home.  People communicate differently.  Some would chat my ear off, while others made copious notes.  Mom had nothing to say and her notes related to geographical location, which I already knew, since I was the one driving.

As promised, we were done long before it was time for Dad to go to his doctor’s appointment.  I took them to one of Dad’s favorites for lunch and delivered them to the doctor right on time.  I’d successfully cleared my first hurdle.

Day Two was more difficult.  I showed up for our weekly day together,changed the sheets and headed out to take care of our usual set of errands.  On the way back to her house, I picked up some of their favorite sandwiches for lunch, to put everyone in a good mood.  Lunch eaten, groceries put away and dishes washed, I put Mom in the car for round two.  We quickly knocked out the second list of properties and I held out a carrot for tackling the final one.  One of her favorite stores was right next to one of the properties and I promised to visit the store if we tackled the list.

I also had a secondary agenda.  I’d really enjoyed a video on one of the property’s websites.  I thought Mom would find it encouraging.  Since the properties on this final list were in my neighborhood, I hoped to drop by the house and show her the video.  One thing I’d already noted however, the further we got away from her neighborhood, the more objections she had to the properties.  At least she was talking now.

My plan worked like a charm.  By the time we reached my house, she was ready for ice cream, which I just happened to have in the freezer.  My husband came down from his office right on cue and asked me if I’d told her about that great video on the computer.  Back in the car we drove by one more property and then took her for a shopping break.  Unfortunately, there’s only so many hours in the day.  Mom was getting tired and the traffic started getting bad.  Before we’d made it all the way through the list, Mom let me know, she wasn’t going to move to my side of town.  Well, you can’t win ’em all!

I took her home and then had to drive all the way back to mine.  Returning home, spilled out like a broken milk bottle, I set down at my desk and played mindless computer games until I’d released enough stress to speak politely to my husband.  I’m going to have to do something nice for that guy when I get through with this project.  Any ideas?

Chat @ Care-giving: And Here’s Our Dining Room

After paring the list of possible retirement properties down to six, I thought things were going to get easy. I’d make a few phone calls and breeze through a few on-site visits – BAM! Mission accomplished! I’d magically know the best property for Mom and Dad. Now, a week later I need a vacation.

First call out of the box was a disappointment.  Mom and Dad still make too much money to live there.  During the next five calls, I decided no one made enough money to live at any retirement property.  Some properties were cagey.  Their goal was to get me on site before they’d tell me anything.  Others told me so much I wondered why I even needed to visit.  One place even couriered over brochures before I’d gotten the phone hung up good.  It took most of a day, but I’d called all six places, disqualified one and made appointments at the other five.

Then out of the blue, my husband decided he’d go with me to check out the properties.  There’s no way to express my appreciation to him.  All of a sudden I felt like I was on a team.  Forget diamonds!  I’ll take moral support during a tough job.

Our first visit was to large faith-based property with a continuum of care.  They hadn’t wanted to tell me much on the phone, because they wanted me to come in for a evaluation of my parents’ situation.  After driving around the property lost for a while, we happened upon the sales office.  The saleslady asked a couple of questions and decided my parents should be in assisted living.  I agreed some of the services might be beneficial for my dad, but told her there was no way my mom would move into assisted living.  I was wasting my breath.  Saleslady One had decided we were assisted living prospects.  I try to look past sales people to the product they are selling.  Unfortunately, the property was as undesirable as the salesperson.  My list of potential properties went down to four.

Property Number Two was a surprise.  I’d sort of written them off based on some incorrect suppositions.  Once  we entered the building I realized we’d happened onto a very strong contender.  Three meals a day, a two bedroom apartment looking into a leafy green belt and a warm, well-maintained campus.  Number Two made it through this round.

Property Number Three couriered their brochure to my house right after my initial contact and a few days later, couriered over driving directions.  And we were having lunch there.  Before the visit was over, I was interested in moving in myself, but thought the opulent factor was a few degrees too high for my dad.  Still, we decided to keep it on the list, because Mom would fit right in.  It was also closest to their current home and would allow them to stay in their own neighborhood.

As we drove into Property Number Four, my husband said, “It’s too far away.”  I replied, “It’s around the corner from my sister and Mom has a friend who lives here.  Keep an open mind.”  We met our tour guide, saw the dining room, looked at the activities calendar and previewed a couple of floor plans.  Overall, I’d been impressed.  The primary drawback was that the residential buildings were connected to the community building with the dining room by covered walkways.  I had trouble imagining Ruth and George navigating their way to dinner in the broiling heat or the freezing cold.  I asked Bill what he thought when the tour was over and he said, “It’s too far away.”  He’s right, it’s too far away.

Dragging into the final property, I was just glad it would soon be over.  I had payment options, floor plans and dining rooms floating around in my head.  This property, like the first, was a faith-based, continuum of care property, but it was a whole different world.  If they need a slogan, it could be, “You want it, we have it.”  It’s definitely staying on the list.  It was several miles beyond Property Number Four, but Hubby had nothing to say in regards to distance.  I think he’s decided what he thinks they should do.

My next job is to accumulate all the information into a cohesive format my parents can wrap their minds around.  My wonderful husband has offered to help with the financial part of the picture.  More kudos on him.  Then we’ll be deciding which, of the remaining three, Mom and Dad think merit further consideration.  Which one do you like?

Chat @ Care-giving: Then the Phone Began to Ring

So, my search for an appropriate retirement residence for my parents is well under way.  I started out with thirty-five potential properties, but was able to quickly narrow the list down to five.  Then my husband and I visited each property on the short list, bringing the number down to three.  My next assignment was to pull everything onto a spreadsheet, to facilitate a fair comparison.

Choosing the properties to investigate out of the large number available in Dallas reminded me of looking for travel accommodations.  Bringing in an influencer to clinch a deal was something I learned while selling office equipment.  Narrowing down a list of potential properties called on a trick I’d learned as a real estate agent.  Though researching for a retirement property for my parents was a job I’d never had to tackle before, I discovered that the life skills I’d learned elsewhere served me well in this task.  Now it was time to open up an exel spreadsheet.

I actually enjoy doing spreadsheets.  There’s a hint of the creative about it.  You’ve got information and you have little boxes.  Figuring out how to populate the data into the little boxes, so that it will be usable and easy to understand is sort of fun – usually.  But in this case I didn’t exactly have apples to compare with apples or even apples to compare with fruit.  It was more like having to choose one store to shop at for the rest of your life: Neiman Marcus, WalMart or Lowe’s.

As I pored over all the notes I’d taken and the many brochures I’d been handed, I began to put the spreadsheet together.  I had a few false starts and ended up with three different worksheets before everything was documented.  I had brochures and spreadsheets about five layers deep on my desk when my phone rang.  Before I could answer it, I had to find it.

“Hi, this is Jane.”  “Hi Jane, This is Nice Salesperson behind Door Number One.”  I was thanked for coming to see Door Number One and asked if I had any question Nice could answer.  I’d already received a handwritten note from Nice, conveying this message to me, but after all my years in marketing I appreciated the personal touch.  Nice wanted to know when we could schedule a visit for my parents to see the property.  I explained we weren’t quite that far along, yet.  She probed a little deeper and asked if she could stay in touch.

I went back to my spreadsheets with a vengeance.  I wanted to get this little job over in one day.  It wasn’t going to be used at a board meeting or in a court of law as some of my spreadsheets have been.  And besides, I had poems to submit, query letters to write and blogs to post.  In a little while, I checked my inbox and there was an email from Pleasant Salesperson behind Door Number Two.  Pleasant thanked me for my visit, wondered if I had any questions and wanted to set up an appointment for my parents to come see the property.  Pleasant hadn’t sent me a handwritten note, but paperless is green and green is the new polite.

Time was getting a way from me , but I was almost through.  By six o’clock I’d done all my formatting and thought I had a document my parents would appreciate.  I was a little surprised that I hadn’t heard from Door Number Three.  Maybe they weren’t as interested in having my parents as residents live there.  Then the phone rang again.  It wasn’t Gracious Salesperson behind Door Number Three.  It was the Big Kahuna of Door Number Three.  She apologized profusely for calling so late, told me how much they loved meeting my husband and I.  Did I have any questions?  No questions.  We chatted a bit and then the Big Kahuna invited my parents to big party Door Number Three is having later in the month.  I promised I’d extend the invitation.

The spreadsheet is done, but the calls keep coming.  Nice says, “Oh, did I mention…”  Pleasant says, “I’m just checking in…”  The Big Kahuna says, “I wanted to be sure you’d gotten the summer special pricing when you visited…”  I’m beginning to feel very important.  Do you like salespeople who follow up or do you want them to leave you alone?