Here is an excellent piece from Louise Szabo about how to deal with the challenging subject of trying to show mom and dad that a move into a senior community or retirement home could actually be a good thing.
Dear Mom and Dad…
How many times have you brought up the subject of your parents moving into a retirement residence only to have them turn a deaf ear? They do not want to hear it or even discuss it. They often think that retirement homes are no different from long-term facilities and that these places are where people go to die. They are so wrong. Some retirement homes are more like moving into a swank hotel with all the comforts of home.
Still, trying to convince them will leave you feeling frustrated and guilty. How dare we ask, plead, beg or bribe them to leave their spacious home and move into a cubby hole?
As I watched my parents' health slowly deteriorate and their quality of life diminish I knew that they were ready to move. They, on the other hand, found it easy to ignore the signs.
It is difficult to talk to parents about being old and pointing out to them that they need more help in their daily life. It forces them to face their inadequacies. Most of us look up to our parents and through most of our life we expect them to give us their advice and wisdom. When the roles reverse we take on the parenting role. How difficult it must be for them to accept this new reality and face their frailty. It is no wonder that they resist us.
After two long years of sometimes argumentative discussions I decided, in desperation, that the only way I could make them understand my thoughts and feelings about why I wanted them to move into a safer environment was to write them a letter. Since both of them were hard of hearing and usually refused to wear their hearing aid, my words written in bold large letters could not be ignored. It also meant that my message could hopefully be read over and over again.
Words on paper can be very powerful. If you're thinking of doing the same, here are some tips to get you going:
Outline your concerns
It was a difficult letter to write. I had often said to them, ‘Life at home is getting dangerous.' But it was so easy for them to forget past mistakes. Writing down in black and white reminders of when Mom burned the pot and the stove element and refused to get both replaced in case it happened again was not one of the most comfortable moments in my writing. Nor was chastising them for the many times I would go to their place and struggle to re-bag the soggy garbage in the kitchen and cart the mess into the outside bin in the garage. Mentioning that after only two weeks on the job Mom had fired the caregiver I had hired made me feel angry. As for Dad, I reprimanded him for taking his daily dose of medication all at once. The scolding part of the letter was kept short, leaving much out, as I did not want to hurt them to the point that they would not read to the end.
Acknowledge their feelings and concerns
I also had to acknowledge their pain, and their fear. Leaving this house, their home for over fifty years, would be extremely difficult for all of us. Even to think about it made me feel sad. After all, this was my childhood home and ever since they had moved here the whole family, aunts, uncles and cousins, had come together to celebrate almost every holiday. More than a house, it was a neighbourhood of friends and familiar faces. I understood that leaving would tear away a piece of their soul and I tried to emphasize that memories are carried within all of us and will always be there.
Show them the benefits
My letter also explained the advantages of living in a beautiful retirement home. It would take away the isolation that I am sure they sometimes must feel. They could have date nights at the movies and have a social life for a change with people that, like them, had decided that they needed pampering in their golden years. In a retirement home they would get proper nourishment, a doctor would be close at hand and the nurses would dispense the proper medication at the right time.
The most difficult portion in the writing process was stressing how important the decision to move into a retirement home was to them and to me. As we parent the parent, with all the responsibilities that it brings, if they are of sound mind we have to respect that it is their decision to make.
Not ours. We can only try our best to convince them.
Appeal to their parental instincts
Playing on their feelings of parenting I wrote how concerned I was about them hoping that they would want to eliminate the worry and stress from me, their child. I also made sure that they knew without a doubt that I would do everything that needed to be done to insure that the transition into a retirement home was as easy on them as it possibly could be. Moving is stressful at the best of times. Now imagine how difficult it would be if you were in your nineties, had lived in the same residence for fifty years and were faced with picking and choosing from a lifetime of possessions what you wanted to keep, give away or throw out. What an overwhelming chore to undertake.
The whole idea of moving from one residence to another is frightening. It is the fear of leaving the familiarity of one's life, the grief of losing one's independence and the trepidation of not having the strength to adjust to new surroundings and people. It took a lot of courage on my part to actually give them the letter. It took even more courage on my parents' part to make the decision to move into a retirement home. After a few months in their new residence my mother commented, ‘You know, a woman only gets to retire when she moves into a retirement home. When it comes your turn, I hope you won't wait as long as we did.'
If you write your letter with words from your heart you will be amazed at the results for, in the end, it is all about love.
Louise Szabo is a freelance writer, resides in Ottawa and is married to her husband for the past 45 years. Since her retirement from the Government of Canada, she has published articles in The Ottawa Citizen as well as the Madawaska Highlander. She is one of eight winners in the 2009 City of Ottawa Short Story Contest and received an honourable mention for this same contest in 1998. She was the editor and contributor in the creation of the cottage book Chimo Park on Black Donald Lake, Our History, Our Stories and will be published in the magazine Our Canada in the 2009 August/September issue.
Matt Del Vecchio is a Certified Professional Consultant on Aging (CPCA). He is the founder and president of Lianas - a company specializing in retirement residence search and senior transition support.