In last week’s post, I explored the challenge of aging with dignity and making the most of our final innings. I concluded with the story of my mother Elsie and her successful transition from living alone in her own home to living in a beautiful community at The Stayton in Fort Worth. She would be the first to tell you what a gift it is to be free of the stresses of home maintenance, living among new friends in an elegant and welcoming environment.
When I started writing these weekly posts almost 3 years ago, I focused mostly on tips for estate planning and creating a family legacy. When I happened to share a personal story, I was surprised to learn that my readers craved more of it. In that vein, I’ll shoot straight with you and tell you that Elsie’s move wasn’t all easy. I offer this candid account to help those of you who may also be dealing with “the difficult conversation” about parents moving out of their home.
So, in the spirit of keeping it real, here’s how it went down. A few years ago, my mom fell and broke her pelvis. During the early days of her convalescence, we arranged around-the-clock care in her home. Let’s just say the experience with home caregivers was less than satisfying. Managing the frequent no-shows, weekly payments, medication rituals, etc. proved to be a nightmare. But Elsie (along with my wife Laurie and me) weathered through it. The recovery took about a year, but my mom bounced back 100%.
Then, a couple of years later, Elsie fell in her kitchen and broke her hip. During her stay in rehab, my mom once again expressed the desire to return to her home with around-the-clock caregivers. Laurie and I knew that returning to her four-level home with home healthcare was a bad idea.
I have always adored my mother and never wanted to disappoint her by telling her something she didn’t want to hear. On the other hand, a loving daughter-in-law was not as conflicted. I had to leave her rehab room and go sit outside on a bench while Laurie did the heavy lifting. My sweet but firm wife had the strength to flat-out tell her: “You can’t go home. We tried that before, and it didn’t work well.” Lesson: It’s important to have an objective third-party on the team to deliver unwelcome news, whether a daughter-in-law or an independent consultant.
Elsie’s response: “Well, if I’m not going home, then I’m moving to The Stayton.” Ironically, she’d never been there before, but she heard it was Fort Worth’s finest senior living facility. Laurie found me outside on the bench and gave me the report. In typical fashion, Laurie wasted no time. We had an appointment the following morning to go check out The Stayton. My sister-in-law Lea Ann (wife of my deceased brother Irwin) accompanied us, along with our interior designer Brad Alford (including Brad was another wise decision by Laurie).
The following morning, we convened in my mom’s rehab room before going to The Stayton. Before entering, Lea Ann hit me with a message I needed to hear: “If your brother Irwin were here, he’d just take care of this, and it would be done.” I knew she was right. Irwin was the more decisive and practical one. We loved my mom equally, but he was a more “get it done” kind of guy.
Elsie’s parting words as we left for The Stayton: “Don’t sign or commit to anything. Let’s take our time on this.” I looked at her and responded: “This is Irwin talking now. Since he’s not here to say this, I’m channeling him. If we find the right apartment, we’re going to buy it today before someone else snatches it up.” Then we left.
Lo and behold, that’s just what happened. We found the perfect apartment in the “independent living” section. Brad described it as a “jewel box.” We bought it on the spot. Brad immediately proceeded to turn it into a showplace, using the best of Elsie’s own furniture and art. A few weeks later, when my mom first saw it, it took her breath away.
Within days, Elsie’s hesitation about the move evaporated. She fell in love with her new luxurious environment, new friends, terrific food, and stimulating programming. On top of that, she certainly doesn’t miss home and yard maintenance.
Again, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll share a comment Elsie made to Laurie after her first week: “I’m 90 years old and all my life, my only friends have been Jewish. For the first time, I’ve become friends with non-Jews, and they’re actually quite wonderful.” I already knew that, but way to go Elsie for branching out!
Okay, there you have the real story of Elsie’s move. It’s been over two years, and she’s loved every moment. The Stayton is a gift that keeps on giving, both to Elsie, and to us! I hope this story inspires others to have “difficult conversations” with your loved ones. You’re actually giving them a valuable gift.
Marvin E. Blum
(1) Marvin and Laurie Blum with Marvin’s mother Elsie, photographed in the Stayton’s fine dining room. (2) Elsie Blum’s “jewel box” apartment at The Stayton, her elegant new home.