We all have heroes in our lives. Maybe a teacher, a mentor, a parent, or even a child fits that bill. I have several. I must confess, I like strong women and many of my super heroes are just that, strong women. I’ve learned a lot from them and I still do. Maybe you can benefit from what I have learned.
Another is my Mom. We’re a lot alike, so sometimes that doesn’t make things particularly easy. We’re both a little whacky, creative, determined, outgoing, and like things the way we like them. We’re also musicians and teachers. That determination doesn’t always make us the easiest people in the world.
So, Mom is going strong at 85, still teaching a few piano students and living a very full life in a beautiful independent living community. Up until just 9 months ago though, Mom was holding down a 4-bedroom home and working hard to keep up with all the maintenance. It was the way she and Dad had always lived—maintaining a yard and all that went with a big home. It was the American Dream that she and Dad had successfully attained. As depression era folks, this was a big achievement.
My sister and I had struggled with how to convince Mom that there was an easier way to enjoy her life without giving up the dream. A health event took care of that for us.
After a life-threatening event and a difficult recovery, Mom unexpectedly suggested to me during one of my trips that we should go “check out one of those places.” A while back, Mom viewed “one of those places” as the old concept nursing home. Fortunately, with some education, Mom moved past this concept. Nonetheless, she still did not realize the extent to which she could remain independent and enjoy being part of a senior community with wonderful amenities and support services that are available on an as needed basis.
There is a lot of research that supports the role and importance of social connection throughout life, but certainly those social connections become especially important as we age.
We had also struggled, with little success, with how to help Mom recreate social connections after my Dad passed away. We knew it was important, but losing my Dad after 54 years of marriage was a huge blow. So, to say I was thrilled just with this glimmer of hope was an understatement.
There were a lot of misperceptions that had to be replaced about senior independent living communities. The perception of “giving up” what one had spent a lifetime working for was tough. The people at the senior independent living facility could not have been more in-tuned to Mom’s anxiety. She learned that she could keep her full grand piano and do away with her dining room furniture (an easy choice) and still teach as many students as she liked. She did a great job of making choices and keeping her priorities. It still took time, compassion and patience on the part of all of us, especially my sister.
What I underestimated though was the power of social connections in healing, even for a senior. I’m reading a book right now, Social Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, by Matthew D. Lieberman. I highly recommend it if you want to understand more about how we are wired to be socially connected—something that we as baby boomers want to remember has we design our retirement and next life chapters. In it, the author stresses that one of our greatest needs is to belong. Social connections and the right kind of activities are powerful in continuing to shape our brains even as seniors.
One of my happiest days recently was hearing from Mom that she didn’t have time to talk with me right now; she was busy at her painting class! I could not have been happier than to be blown off by a painting class! At the tender age of 85 she’s pursing another creative outlet I never would have predicted. I’m reminded, it’s not too late for me to take on a new hobby or creative pursuit.
Perhaps I can offer a few tips or ideas from lessons learned as we helped our Mom on this journey. It was also an opportunity to think about our own retirement planning. I hope these tips will be helpful to you. Please let us know! In the meantime, go, super hero, Mom!
- Patience, patience, patience!
- Talk honestly, with a lot of compassion, about what’s scary about making this move and why.
- Listen carefully. Are there misperceptions that can be addressed?
- Research and find several examples of the kinds of facilities that you think may be the right kind of facility for your loved one. Go visit with your loved one and make sure that you and the representatives are on the same page philosophically. No hard selling in this environment!
- Go visit for lunch, dinner or a social event. We even attended a weekend educational program and I learned a lot too!
- Talk, talk, talk to the other residents during your visits. You’ll learn a lot about what your loved one is concerned about, or looking forward to, during those discussions.
- Keep a sense of humor combined with a lot of gentle, positive encouragement!