By Marni McDuff
Imagine settling into a new community, building a house with your own hands, and turning that house into a home for your four young children. After your children grow up, they lovingly return year after year. Eventually, your grand kids joyfully visit as well, and friends come week after week for countless dinner parties, card games, love and laughter. I’m describing the lives of my husband’s parents, who made a life-changing move fifty-two years ago. They created the life they loved and relationships with new families who would become lifelong friends.
I joined this wonderful family eight years ago and fell in love with everything they stood for. As I observed the happiness that filled their home, I never envisioned the day circumstances and health concerns would bring a close to the many chapters that had been written in their home. Yet, I soon found out I was going to have a hand in helping them transition, downsize, and move into the next chapter of their lives.
I can’t say putting a plan in place for moving them was easy. My in-laws were in their nineties. They no longer drove and relied on friends to help. My father-in-law had always said he would never leave his home and would die there. What I have learned working in the senior industry over the last ten years is that 98% of seniors never want to move out of their home. My in-laws were no exception. The fear of the unknown was worrisome. I was anticipating the adjustment being much harder for them, and early on it was. Their home represented years of memories and a routine that was familiar and comfortable–and they had lived there for more than fifty years!
Let me tell you a little about what was happening in the beginning of the transition. My father-in-law was exhibiting increased signs of dementia. His ability to manage his home was diminished, and his short term memory was creating relational conflict. At the same time, my mother-in-law was losing much of her mobility, finding it hard to be on her feet to clean, cook, and run their home.
One day there was a crisis with their plumbing. When they realized they had a water leak, they called a plumber who came to find the problem, said he found nothing, but charged them more than a hundred dollars. The problem remained, and a $4,000 water bill soon followed. Frustration in being able to properly manage that problem led them to announce that they planned to move.
The family rallied together to help them downsize, to prepare their home and many belongings for sale, and to support them emotionally as we moved them in to an assisted living community.
Fast forward to one year. Although they were on the wait list for a two-bedroom apartment, they declined when the opportunity came because they were nicely settled in, comfortable, and loving their new living quarters. They had made friends with many of the residents in the community, and they still have many other visitors. Occasionally they participate in some of the daily activities.
The family reunited a year later to celebrate their 70 years of love and marriage. As we gathered, my husband and I observed that his father was happier then we had seen him in years. The weight of trying to keep a home, care for his wife, and manage his dementia had been lifted. He told us he would never want to live anywhere else. He was truly happy.