“Where we love is home – home that our feet may leave,
but not our hearts.”

I’ve just moved into a new house after renting a condo for the past year. It’s my seventh house in the past 30 years (counting the dear Magic Cottage). Moving is stressful. It never gets easier. My soul aches every time I close a door behind me. It’s as though you’re locking away a part of your life forever. My parents reluctantly left their home of nearly 50 years when they moved to their apartment at Shannondale. See “Leaving Home” for more about the Great Migration.

Several friends of mine are currently weighing the decision of when, why and how to help their parents make the BIG MOVE. In the Care and Feeding of Old People, it’s probably the most significant decision you’ll ever make, more so than end-of-life directives or last bequeaths, because it represents the ultimate loss of independence. The end of the American Dream.

The father of one friend is a recent widower after 65 years of marriage. He still lives in the house he shared with his wife for nearly 40 years, until she passed away after a series of strokes. He’s lonely but in good health at 88. Still drives. Eats by himself at Cracker Barrel. Has a fine head of hair. He’s an introvert and likes his privacy. That part reminds me of Gmamma – being an introvert. She had a fine head of hair too, come to think about it.

Another friend’s father has been a widower for a decade. He’s a gregarious fellow, with a long-term sweetheart and a network of friends, old and young, near and far, accumulated and maintained over a lifetime. He no longer drives, and his memory is beginning to fail him. He’s recently decided to re-lo to a posh new retirement facility soon to open on Northshore Drive – they’re springing up like fast-food restaurants. This one even has a bar. It will be a good move for him. Like DooDaddy, he’s an extrovert, thriving on the energy of others. He’s at his best in a roomful of friends and family, swapping stories and laughing until their eyes water. He’s 91 years young. It’s time for him to leave the home he shared for 22 years with his wife of 53 years.

So here are your “best practices” for making the right choice about moving your geezer to a retirement community/assisted living facility/nursing home.

  1. WHEN – All I can say is you will know when it’s time, and timing is everything. Your geezers might resist at first, so plant seeds and have casual conversations. Don’t force the issue. Let your elderly loved ones come to their own decision, BUT facilitate the discussion and keep the topic top of mind. Work as a team with your siblings, letting them each approach it in their own way. In our case, my younger brother was the key influencer. When Randy said it was time, DooDaddy concurred and even stubborn Gmamma finally acquiesced and accepted her fate with a stoic grace.
  2. WHY – When their health is deteriorating, and they can no longer live on their own, time is of the essence. You want to relocate your geezers to the minimal level of care and the maximum level of independence. If you wait too long, it’s straight to the nursing home to join the wheelchair zombies. Unless your geezer is already a zombie, this will be a terrifying transition. There’s a fine line between forcing your parents to move before they’re ready and waiting too long to make the move. It’s more invasive to go to a nursing home than an independent-living facility and way more expensive.
  3. HOW – Listen with your heart but go with your gut. Be respectful but firm. Parenting your parents is a delicate dance between stepping up and stepping back. But you need to take the lead. Use whatever argument works best with your geezers. Is money the deciding factor or is it declining health? Our parents don’t “want to be a burden.” If you can make it about helping you rather than helping them, they’ll be more likely to agree. Because above all, they will always be your parents and will want to do whatever they can for their children.

Some folks can’t afford a retirement facility. Some folks can afford extravagantly expensive round-the-clock home healthcare and assistance. For those of us in the middle, there are lots of places to choose from, with varying levels of care and amenities. It’s like buying a house. You have to like the neighbors and the neighborhood vibe.  My parents felt at home at Shannondale, because there were people like them there. Old friends like Julia and Walter Pulliam. And DooDaddy’s Aunt Edie and Gmamma’s Aunt Louise had been there. And DooDaddy once sold a house for Sandy, who works in admissions. It truly is a small world.

The world gets smaller and smaller for the elderly. You can ease this transition by lovingly walking beside your parents as they leave home for the last time. Just as they did for you, when you left home, with the world at your feet and your whole life ahead of you.

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There’s no place like home