My father died April 8, 2014. My mother continued to live in their home until yesterday June 18, 2015 when she moved into an apartment at the Colonel By Retirement Residence.
Traditionally a widow is counselled to wait at least a year before making a significant change of lifestyle although if mother had downsized sooner it would hardly have been considered rash at 88 years of age. My mother’s general health has incrementally and noticeably declined since well before my father’s death in his 95th year. The subject of downsizing certainly did not surface only as a result of my father’s death. What equally persisted however was my mother’s tenacious bond with her house, the one she had built about 50 years ago and abhorred leaving even for 24 hours. She was glued to it in ways I considered unwholesome.
Following my father’s death it became apparent that the relocation of my mother to more convenient living quarters would soon become imperative. In the last year she lost her driver’s licence at the behest of her physician. She became entirely dependent on immediate family for groceries, shopping and medical/dental appointments. She was not taking her prescribed medication routinely and none of us knew with certainty what and when she was eating. She had succumbed to climbing the stairs on her knuckles. The last straw was a highly visible cigarette burn hole drilled into her evening fabric chair. This elevated what was previously for me only a lifestyle choice to a question of duty and obligation as her power of attorney.
The first step to transitioning to a retirement residence is of course to find one. As topical as the subject may currently be for baby boomers and their aging parents, we children are nonetheless ill prepared for the eventuality. Apart from a cursory look at nearby residences it was mostly a matter of luck that we stumbled upon Colonel By Retirement Residence. This is especially odd as it is located within about ten blocks of where my sister and her husband live; and we were all vaguely familiar with the place as it was the reincarnation of the former Perley Hospital. The little bit of on-line preliminary investigation I made led me to conclude that it was a matter of adding my mother’s name to a long waiting list and then restlessly tapping our fingers for 6 – 12 months until an invitation surfaced to take whatever residence had then become available. To my surprise however within weeks after having opened the lines of communication with Colonel By Retirement Residence we were invited to view three units available for independent living (as opposed to assisted living or long-term care). Thinking that we were still on the very edge of engagement I encouraged my mother to take a look at the place and again to my surprise she expressed a preference for one of the apartments in particular. This instantly accelerated the motivation and purpose of our exploit. Within a short time we were offered a 3-month window for consideration of leasing the suite.
Without trotting out the tedious details of all that followed, it is perhaps sufficient to relate only that the opportunity quickly developed into a critical option, one which we were wise not to let go. A mover was arranged; draperies were ordered; measurements were taken of the apartment and the existing furnishings; modifications were made to the interior structure and electrical fixtures of the apartment; new furnishings as required were purchased. Meanwhile every conversation with my mother began with or ended in a discussion of the need to give the retirement residence a try (though of course I privately knew the so-called trial would eventually translate into a perpetual commitment). My mother’s posture was mercurial. One moment she would embrace the idea of moving to the apartment; but later she would adamantly proclaim her decision to forego the privilege. For days on end she vacillated, prevaricated and tried to dodge the issue (sometimes with astonishing cunning).
The significant precedent to the actual move to the retirement residence was the disposition of the household junk which had accumulated over the past 50 years. Even though my mother had said on countless occasions that she wanted to rid herself of the debris, this was an exercise fraught with her customary resistance. What initially appeared to be a simple process swelled into a heated collision of wills. It exemplified two points: 1) my mother was having an inordinately difficult time parting with anything; and, 2) she hadn’t the capacity to reason the utility of doing so. This realization effectively lubricated the subsequent decision about what should or should not go to Colonel By; namely, I couldn’t be deterred or perturbed by her endless negativity. It turns out that my deduction was quite proper and that my decision to trump many of mother’s objections was one which eventually produced her favourable response to the apartment.
When at last the furnishings were removed from mother’s house and mother was ferried to my sister’s place for lunch that day to await our call to view the apartment, I still had no absolute certainty that all would work in our collective favour. It was a serendipitous mark of providence that the new draperies were hung that very morning. And the weather cooperated with an unanticipated sunny, breezy day. As my mother turned the key to her new apartment and poked her nose inside I heard an immediate exhale of awe and some words of appreciation. It worked! What followed was just more of the same, including the approbation of my sister and her husband, and we were all relieved to have succeeded in our mission.
The inertia of the past three months continued to propel me forward like an unstoppable train. But within the past several days as my mother adjusts to her new environment I have accepted without equivocation that this is settled business, a fait accompli! As a family we too must now adjust to the change of circumstances. There is also the spin-off relating to the sale of my mother’s house and we have already engineered the mechanics to accomplish that, including the retention of trades people to clean carpets, remove prized family possessions and brighten up some of the household spaces.
This milestone is perhaps one of the most important in my life, not because it represents the relocation of my mother from her family home but because it illustrates the triumph of our corporate concern for her and the promise of her continued well-being for her remaining days. It pleases me to know that she now has the convenience of living on one floor, having the daily attendance of personal care workers to administer her medication, the assurance of regular meals and the company of others throughout the day. Mother is also closer to family. As my mother is wont to observe, “What’s not to like!”