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In a Home Not My Own

Malkie Schulman

How does it feel to move out of your home-of-decades and into a single room in an assisted living facility or a child’s house?

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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The emotional toll of a move often depends on the circumstances surrounding it, and who’s ultimately calling the shots. If the aging parent made the decision to move, for instance, it’s usually a smoother process

T he “sandwich generation” gets a lot of press for juggling the care of young children and aging parents. What we rarely hear about is what it’s like to be in the senior’s shoes: How does it feel to move out of your home-of-decades and into a single room in an assisted living facility or a child’s house? What’s it like to switch from being head of the household to just another member of the family or elderly community? How do you feel when your children start calling the shots?

An honest look at this major transition

At age 80, Devorah held a high-powered accounting position in the city. “I worked all my life and nobody was asking me to retire. I felt fine — I even still wore my high heels,” Devorah shares. But when her husband passed away, Devorah’s life began to unravel. “I couldn’t concentrate. I began to experience scary physical symptoms like falling down frequently. At one point, I was convinced I was having a stroke.”

Devorah knew she couldn’t carry on the way she had before, so when her daughter asked her to live with her, she acquiesced. “I felt I had no choice,” she says. “My daughter is kind and caring and always tries to make me feel comfortable. But I live in a room upstairs with the rest of the family. I feel like I’m always underfoot. I try to visit my other daughter when it gets really bad. At least I have more privacy there.”

Much has been spoken about the difficulties that adult children experience when deciding to move their aging parents into their home or into an assisted-living facility. The extra financial burden, the time commitment required for medical appointments, juggling younger family and aging parents’ needs are just a few of the challenges. Often, in our justified concern for the adult child, the aging parent and their point of view and feelings about these changes are overlooked or sometimes dismissed entirely.

The move from a home with a history to an adult child’s house or assisted-living facility can be an emotionally wrenching process. “Having to say goodbye to four decades of friends and familiar places was distressing,” says Rachel, a soft-spoken widow in her 80s, who made the decision to move in with her daughter because she had no family near her out-of-town home. “No one was forcing me to leave, but it was getting harder physically for me to get about. I realized it was time to go.”

Even relatively straightforward aspects of the moving process can be painful, like deciding which of your belongings to keep and which to discard. Nate, an elderly widower whose wife died two years before he moved into an assisted-living facility, spent months agonizing over each item in his house. Should I take my wife’s favorite reading lamp with me even though I can’t read anymore? What about the set of encyclopedias that I got from my brother as a wedding present? “At the end, my children had to step in,” he says. “Otherwise I’d probably still be sorting through my things.”

 

Some seniors, even robustly mentally coherent ones, find it painful to admit that they’ll never be returning to their home of many years. Sarah, for example, who moved from a full life in her community to her child’s home a year ago, reports, “My husband’s stroke forced us to move, but we didn’t sell our house. All our furniture and our friends are waiting for us to return.”

Who’s Running the Show?

The emotional toll of a move often depends on the circumstances surrounding it, and who’s ultimately calling the shots. If the aging parent made the decision to move, for instance, it’s usually a smoother process. If the decision was made by the children, the parent might feel resentful or invalidated. “But in my experience, in most healthy relationships, those feelings calm down after a while,” says Lakewood social worker Chaya Levin, LCSW, who specializes in eldercare. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 576)

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