My parents, both elderly and in poor health, still live at home in the cooperative apartment they purchased early last year after my father was forced to take to using a walker. My mother, suffering from a variety of illnesses has since become equally physically dependent. They fall often, need help with daily tasks, and leave us in a worried state most of the time. But they refuse to relocate near one of us, or move to independent or assisted living.
Many in their situation would commend them for their living arrangements.
“It’s so nice they have been able to stay in their own home!”
“They still have all their friends around them.”
“They still have their cars? (Apparently it doesn’t much matter that they haven’t been driven in a year.) Amazing!”
These, and similar pronouncements, have all been made to me by my own “older” friends. Perhaps filled with fear of ending up similarly situated, they see my parents as holding on to the holy grail of old age: independence. I on the other hand, anxious over my mother’s depression and my father’s waning days, only see their mundane and limited existence.
My mother spends her days at home, virtually house-bound by her neurologically impaired legs and her dejected state. For fun she watches endless hours of loud television and dreams about when her children will be able to come visit again. For daily companionship she has my father, who hates television.
My father, much more optimistic but even less physically mobile, spends his days attempting to escape into peaceful silence by sleeping or reading the newspaper. He pines for his business cohorts and is blessed enough to have one take him to Rotary once a week.
Trips outside the confines of their small apartment are limited to endless physical therapy and doctor’s appointments, occasional dinners out with one saintly couple of similar age (but much better health), and trips down to the lobby to check their mailbox.
There mode of transportation is limited to paid nurses who take them to the doctor and a few dedicated friends who gracefully respond to my father’s calls for a ride.
Juxtapose this all to my mother-in-law’s current living arrangements and one can see why I want more for my parents than their present autonomy. My mother-in-law gave up her “independence” last year when she and my father-in-law (who was recovering from a broken hip) moved into assisted living.
While not happy about the move they knew he would get the help with dressing and bathing that she could no longer give him. Within a month they were both singing the praises of assisted living and despite my father-in-law’s recent passing, she has opted to continue on living there because she is truly happy there.
Unlike my parents, her days are filled with life: outside activities like trips for ice cream and river cruises in the center’s free bus; inside activities such as BINGO, water color classes, and evening movies. She also has transportation to all medical appointments and in-house podiatry care and medicinal management.
Her trips to the Alzheimer’s wing to visit those less fortunate and her weekly reading sessions with a blind resident give her life further purpose and buoy her spirits when they fall short. Companionship is right around the corner in the in-house library, at daily “happy hour”, every time she sits down to a meal in the cheerful dining room and even in the friendships she has made with staff.
When I visit her I cannot help but re-up my prayers that my parents will move, with their aide if they so desired, into a similar set-up. Yes, they are relatively safe and well cared for where they are. But life, even at their age, is about a lot more than that. It is about companionship, purpose and “independence”.