In last week’s Family Legacy Planning post, I presented the case that social interaction improves both the quality and quantity of life. I ended by saying this week’s post would tell my own mother’s story. This email describes the journey of Elsie Blum increasing her social interaction at age 90, and the positive impact on both her and on the rest of the family.
Here is the dilemma many adult children in my shoes face: an elderly parent is living alone in their own home and fiercely wants to stay there. However, their quality of life is declining. They may need health care. The house requires constant maintenance and repair. They are alone and often lonely. Such is the Elsie Blum saga, a story with lots of trials and tribulations, but fortunately a very happy ending. I share this story with the hope it may help others in a similar situation.
After my father died in 2003, my mom began hanging out with some new girlfriends and poured herself into daily volunteering at our synagogue. She was healthy, busy, independent and life was good. Then, 3 years ago, she fell and broke her pelvis. The one-year recovery process was excruciating. She insisted on returning from the rehab facility to her multi-level home where we installed chairlifts on the stairs and lots of handicap bars. We hired round-the-clock care, which was a very unsatisfying solution. No one was happy. But she recovered and regained her independence. Then, a year ago, she fell in her kitchen and broke her hip. Same song, second verse. Once again, she wanted to return from the rehab facility to her home. This time, we were determined to find a different solution.
I struggled with telling her what she didn’t want to hear. Then, the words of my sister-in-law Lea Ann (wife of my deceased brother Irwin) made all the difference. She said, “If Irwin were here, he’d just make arrangements for Elsie to move to a community living environment, and it’d be done!” Irwin was a “can do—get it done” kind of guy. We were both deeply devoted to my mom, but my style was different—I wanted to go all lengths to try to please my mother. My wife Laurie instantly agreed with Lea Ann, and when my mom told us to find full-time care so she could go home, Laurie told her, “We’re not going to do that. We tried that before, and it didn’t work.” Elsie objected, but instantly replied: “Well, if I’m not going to live at home, then I’m going to live at The Stayton.”
We had been trying for years to get my mom to move to The Stayton, a luxury high-rise independent living environment with great food and activities. She had refused to even go look at it. In her mind, it was a “nursing home.” It’s SO not a nursing home. It’s more like walking into a Ritz Carlton Hotel. When she opened the door to the idea of moving there, we jumped on it instantly. The very next morning, we arranged for Laurie, Lea Ann, and me to tour The Stayton, meeting my mother’s decorator Brad Alford there to help us select a residence. As we were leaving her rehab room, she cautioned me not to commit to anything. Hearing Lea Ann’s words in my head, I answered: “This is Irwin Blum talking now. If we find the right place, we’re going to lock it in. I don’t want to take the risk of losing it.” We went to Stayton, and all the while there, I was channeling my brother Irwin.
We found the perfect apartment. Brad Alford decorated it to become a showplace, truly breathtakingly beautiful. The first couple of days were rocky, as Elsie was not a happy camper. That all changed by day 3, when she began meeting the other residents. She marveled at how friendly everyone there was. That was about one year ago. Since that day, my mom has never dined alone. Every day is filled with meaningful activities—programs, concerts, lectures, even Stayton business meetings (which she especially loves, given her head for business). She’s part of a loving and close-knit community. Her face looks younger and relaxed. No more home maintenance. No more loneliness. I mean it when I say she actually seems happier than I’ve ever seen her in my whole life. She has peace of mind, and so do we.
My mom lives in the independent living section, but if ever needed there’s assisted living, skilled nursing, rehabilitation, and also memory care. Thankfully, at 91, she’s going strong and has no need at this time for those other areas. (Please G-d, I hope I have those genes—there’s at least a 50% chance!) I’m convinced The Stayton is adding years to her life, and not just more years, but quality years. I suspect Elsie would say she wished she’d moved to The Stayton ten years ago. We can’t wind the clock back. But as family therapist Brad Nowlin (whose mom Sallie and her husband Joe also live at The Stayton) wisely posited: “When’s the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago. When’s the next best time? Now.” We just planted a tree.
The moral to this story: Although many elderly desperately cling to the idea of staying in their own home for the rest of their life, there’s very likely a better solution. They just don’t know it. Elsie would be happy to talk to them.
Marvin E. Blum
Marvin Blum’s mother Elsie Blum with granddaughter Elizabeth Savetsky, living her best life at age 91 at The Stayton.