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Listening best way to ease Mom into care home

Q: What an ordeal this has been. For the past 13 years, ever since my dad died, my mom has been living alone in the little house she and Dad bought when they sold the farm and moved into town.

Mom has always been fiercely independent. Unfortunately, that is not working for her any more.

All of her medical problems are adding up and making it impossible for her to continue living on her own.

We have tried explaining this to her but she does her best not to understand.

Finally, my husband put his foot down and moved Mom into a long-term care facility not far from us and not that far from her little house.

She has a great little suite there with lots of room for her memorabilia and comfortable furniture.

But she is not co-operating. She has thrown out most of her precious memories (we rescued her beautiful wedding picture), complained to anyone who would listen how we had betrayed her, and so far, has refused to mix and mingle with the other residents, even though many of them had been neighbours when she and Dad were on the farm.

Is there anything that we can do to help both her and us get through this difficult time?

A: Your mom has likely just had an epiphany. Unlike those about which you read while browsing through the spiritual shelf in the bookstore, epiphanies are not always positive.

In your mother’s case, what she is discovering is that despite her self-determination, her tremendous courage, her personal strength, her fierce drive to independence and that overwhelming reflection of pride, she is going to spend the last part of her life where she most likely does not want to be.

She knows, maybe what you have not quite figured out — that the average age for admission to long-term care facilities is higher than it used to be.

People admitted for care are in more need of assistance than were those in the past, that people living in long-term care facilities will not live as long as they used to live and that despite the good intentions and support from the staff in the facilities, a number of residents living there are in fear of being abandoned by their families. That is a powerful epiphany, one most likely driving your mom into moments of irritability, depression, and grief and loneliness.

The temptation for many people in your mom’s position is to check in with their family doctors for prescriptions to counter balance their emotional challenges. Perhaps that too will be the ultimate outcome for your Mother. But before you go that route, I suggest that you spend as much time with Mom as you can.

Don’t argue with her. Don’t try to convince her that the long-term care facility is best for her (even if it is).

In fact, don’t say anything, or at least as little as possible, unless of course you are sharing with her tidbits from the lives of both her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. This is your time to listen to her.

It’s payback for all those times when she was there listening to you, changing your diapers when you were an infant, hugging you through your awkward times in elementary school, crying with you when your one and only boyfriend bit the dust, maybe even walking with you through your first divorce, and loving with you through the birth of your children.

If you listen to your mom properly, without judgment, without trying to correct her when she is in error, she will make her own way in her new facility.

Remember, it is not necessarily the place that is bad. What is bad is her disappointment in herself. As she comes to terms with her own disappointment, she will find her own way into her new life and, who knows, maybe your visits with her there can be fun.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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