DEAR CAROL: Dad was sick for a long time before he died three months ago. Now, without Dad around, my sisters and I notice how much Mom has aged. We’d like Mom to move from her house into assisted living, because caring for the house is too much for her and she just stares at the TV all day. She says she’s not ready to move. How can we help her make the change? – Shawn
DEAR SHAWN: Long-term marriages often evolve into an efficient support system so it’s not unusual that your Mom’s aging was less apparent while your dad was alive. Likely, her grief over your dad’s death has taken a toll, as well. You may want to make an appointment with her doctor to rule out clinical depression or other issues just to be certain she’s okay.
I understand that you feel that your mom should sell the house and move, but try to be patient. This was her home with your dad. She may need several more months just to get enough of a grip on her life to think about moving. Unless her living alone is dangerous, don’t push too hard for a change.
Communicate with your sisters and see if there’s a way that you can split up time so someone can be with your mom often. Don’t force changes, but suggest one small step at a time. Maybe she will be able to slowly part with unneeded things around the house if one of you is there to help.
Do encourage her to have her legal papers updated as soon as possible. If your mother had your dad as her Power Of Attorney, she should now name one of you to take care of her financial and health interests if she cannot. If you bring this up gently, she may actually be relieved. If she says she can’t handle thinking about this now, set a date to discuss it again in a short while. Remind her that she wouldn’t have wanted strangers to make decisions about your dad’s health and she wouldn’t want that for herself. She needs to make sure someone who loves her can step in if needed.
Time is your friend. Pushing too hard for changes may emotionally paralyze her. Let her grieve. Occasionally test the waters with some suggestions. Perhaps, in a few months, you can take her to explore assisted living facilities so she sees people her age having a good time. If any of her friends live in a good retirement or assisted living center, recruit that friend to help with the transition.
Moving is a huge step for anyone. It’s even harder for someone who has suffered a life-changing event such as the death of a spouse. Compassion and patience will help you all get through this.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at Minding Our Elders and a blog at www.mindingoureldersblogs.com.