Home certainly is where the heart is, and it is probably where your parents want to stay, but at some points it may not be feasible to remain in his own home. He might not be able to care for his house on his own home. He may be isolated and lonely. His needs may be too extensive. Finances might necessitate a move.
Whatever the reason, when your parent can no longer stay in his own home, it’s a major turning point for everyone. For your parents, it means leaving a familiar place and giving up some independence and privacy. It might also represent a final move, a last stop.
For you, it’s a time for doubt, worry, and, once again, that old familiar friend, guilt. Does he have to move? Is this the best place? Will he be all right? Are we doing the right thing? You may find yourself sparring with siblings, and even with your parent if he sees you as the force behind a move he doesn’t want to make. And if he’s moving in with you, well, you have a whole other set of concerns and worries.
A move might come slowly after years of caregiving, renovations, home care, deliberations, and waiting lists. Or your parents, who was independent a nanosecond ago, is not lying in a hospital bed while you frantically fix up the den in your house or touring nursing homes.
However this move happens, once the dust settles and everyone adjusts, a new living arrangement can provide social and mental stimulation as well as the physical care your parents needs.
This chapter focuses on the decision to make a move, and some guidelines for living together under one roof. The following chapters look at other housing options and the move into a nursing home.
As always, don’t put this decision off because such a seismic shift takes time. Typically, people need to move long before families address the issue, and by the time they take action, fewer options exist. Talk with your parents. Contemplate his need and preferences, think about what his future might hold, and learn what’s out there. Planning ahead and becoming familiar with the options will help both of you navigate this difficult terrain.
Whose decision is this?
It’s time for a move, no doubt about it, but your father insists, on staying put. Who has the final say?
If he lives with you, in your home, then you decide if he can stay or it’s for a change. If he has dementia and cannot make a reasoned decision, then you have to consider his best interests and decide. But if he lives on his own and is essentially competent, then the choice is his.
Alert him to the risks, discuss the costs, be clear about what you can and can’t do to help, examine the options, consider the future, and get others to talk with him about it. But at some points, if he insists that he is never leaving, despite the steep stairs and the icy stoop, despite his trouble operating the microwave, despite the loneliness, then you have to take a deep breath and accept it.
But, you say, he’s going to hurt himself. He’s going to starve. You can’t stand by and watch that happen.
Of course you can’t. It’s an unbearable situation for a child. But you don’t have much of a choice. You can prod and cajole, but at the end of a day, he’s an adult who has the right to make his own decisions, however foolish those decisions might seem to you. And if he dies a bit sooner because of it, well, you gave him a great gift-the freedom to choose and the right to stay in his own house, where he wanted to be.
Do what you can to make the situation safe and get him the help he needs, but then take a step back-and take a long, deep breath-and try to let go. Impose a little sanity on your own life. This was his choice. Someday, perhaps your kids will honor yours.