Dad died in October 2019. He had been Mom’s world. My brother Patrick and I knew Mom was going to need one of us closer by, so we talked about it as a family, and Mom decided to move to a patio home in independent living near where Patrick lived in Colorado.
We all had big plans of Mom getting looped in with the local senior community and making new friends, but as we all know, Spring of 2020 brought the COVID pandemic which shut down all plans. Mom couldn’t get out, activities shut down, I couldn’t come to visit, and in spite of my brother’s best efforts Mom had to be alone most of the time. Her already tenuous memory declined rapidly, and we began to notice red flags that made us think she was becoming unsafe to live independently. Beyond just being unsafe, Mom is a really social person, and she needed more interaction than Facetime was able to provide.
I’ll share some of the red flags we saw because I feel, in retrospect, that we waited too long to move Mom to assisted living. Fortunately there was no dangerous incident that occurred, but we were trying to go by Mom’s stated wishes of wanting to live independently rather than what was best for her overall health and well-being. At some point, we as loved ones must do what is best and not blindly follow what our ailing family member thinks they want. That is a difficult thought transition to make, especially with a parent. We had to begin thinking of Mom more as a dependent we needed to protect and care for rather than an autonomous individual who could do everything herself. Physically she was in remarkable shape, but not so much mentally.
What we observed:
When we began to get concerned about Mom taking her medication regularly, I initiated daily Facetime calls so I could watch Mom take her pills. We used PillPack, so all the medication was bundled by day, and we knew if she was off by a day it was because she had missed it. At first the daily pill calls went pretty smoothly, but after a time we had to start counting pills before taking them because I noticed that pills wouldn’t get fully removed from the packets or one would roll away on the counter, and Mom would have a difficult time finding it.
When Mom was fully vaccinated, we hired a caregiver to go see her three times a week mostly to socialize. Over time the caregiver also did things like laundry and other basic household tasks. Mom had been adamantly against having someone come into her house, but she ended up loving it and really formed a bond with the woman my brother found. Over time we increased the visits to five days a week, but even that was proving to be not enough.
One of the brightest red flags occurred when I had to call the bank to cancel Mom’s most recent hacked credit card. I always conferenced her in to authenticate her account. She could not answer any of the questions the account representative needed to authenticate her account. That was when we knew we had to get Power of Attorney and decided to move her to assisted living.
My brother and his wife were talking about moving away from Colorado, so it made sense to move Mom to Indianapolis where I live. After *extensive* research, I narrowed our search down to three places. Traditions at Solana was one of them. I liked it because they have a lot of activities, and all the residents seemed to be having fun. I also got a great feeling about the staff who clearly cared about all the residents.
The residents I met, on the surface at least, seemed to be more mentally with it than Mom was. Patrick and I were worried they would get frustrated with Mom’s forgetfulness and she wouldn’t fit in successfully. Meg at Traditions was able to talk us through how they have residents of all different levels of memory fitness and physical fitness and how all the residents support each other and welcome new people. Meg also talked us through their custom levels of care so that we could fine-tune for Mom’s specific needs as necessary. Meg assured us that so long as Mom was not exit-seeking, she could stay where she was successfully up until the point where she needed more extensive skilled nursing care.
Meg’s assurance that the residents would welcome Mom has completely proven out to be true. Everyone introduced themselves, residents stopped by Mom’s apartment to ask her to go to activities with them, they invited her to sit with them at meals, etc. Everyone was and is absolutely lovely.
Now I’ll share a timeline with all our ups and downs in the moving process. I look back and marvel at how many people it took working together to make Mom’s move a success. Fortunately, with the Traditions at Solana staff, we had the right partners and support we needed. Although Patrick and I were still anxious, we knew we had backup.
July 12-16, 2021: Mom flies here to visit. In spite of my brother having her escorted to and from the gate in Denver and getting direct flights, we realized Mom really couldn’t fly independently any more. We had a great time while she was visiting, and I introduced her to all my friends. We toured Traditions and one other assisted living place that were my top two. Mom was surprisingly amenable to the idea and picked Traditions as her favorite. She picked the apartment she wanted, and told us she wanted a kitchenette remodel as a prerequisite for moving. When she got home she formally agreed to the move, and we began setting things up.
Early August: Mom changes her mind about moving and instead insists she wants to live independently where she is. She is in a lot of denial about her memory challenges. Meanwhile, we had already paid the deposit on her apartment, begun plans for remodeling the kitchenette, and made plans with movers. Besides that, it was finally clear to us that Mom couldn’t live independently safely any longer. In consultation with Tara, Shannon and Meg at Traditions, we decided not to keep talking about the move because it retraumatized her every time. Patrick and I felt terrible about that, but I began thinking about a child going to the doctor for a shot. You don’t tell the child every day that they are going to the doctor for a shot. Instead you just go when the time comes, the child gets the shot, and then you get ice cream to make everything better.
Throughout August: Patrick and I continue planning for Mom’s move, not mentioning it to Mom. We feel like terrible people. We plan a trip to Indy for Patrick and Mom, not mentioning that it’s permanent for one of them. During this time, Meg at Traditions is our lifeline, our therapist and our friend. She bolsters our confidence when we need it, tells us stories of other residents’ moves, reassuring us that we’re doing the right thing, and generally keeps us sane. Patrick and I were extremely anxious about Mom’s reaction - so much so that it kept us up at night and was pretty much our sole topic of conversation.
Sept 2: Patrick and Mom arrive. We plan with the Traditions team for Mom to join for some activities like Happy Hour so she can start meeting people. All of this goes very smoothly. Patrick, Mom and I have an absolutely lovely time together. We begin reintroducing the idea of Mom living in Indy and of Patrick and his wife Sharon moving closer. We re-socialized the idea of her moving to Traditions, and that went well. We started feeling hopeful that the move would actually go well. The movers were planned to arrive September 7 or 8, and Patrick and I were looking forward to getting Mom’s apartment unpacked with all her things before moving her in.
Sept 7: The kitchenette looks amazing! We call again to check when the movers arrive...and find out they haven’t even left Colorado. Moreover, they tell us they won’t be there for at least another two weeks. In spite of all our careful planning, of course something comes up that is totally out of our control. After much discussion we decide to move Mom in anyway.
Sept 8: Meg and the Traditions team arrange for us to borrow temporary furniture. Mom and I go shopping for temporary bedding, decor, dishes, and everything else she’ll need to move in.
Sept 13: Move in day! We talk to Mom about how we’re going there and she will sleep there tonight. Much to our surprise, the conversation goes surprisingly well! We have lunch in the private dining room with Meg, and everyone talks about how great it is that she’s moving there.
Sept 13 late afternoon: Disaster! We take Mom to her apartment, and she finally fully realizes that we mean for her to stay there. She is not happy. Not happy at all. She cries, threatens, and begs. Having already talked with Meg, Shannon and Tara about how this might go, we tell Mom we love her and make a quick exit, letting the staff take over. They keep her engaged and busy the rest of the day.
Sept 13 evening: Patrick and I each get phone calls from Mom. We each answer the first one and are greeted with a level of vitriol we had never heard from her. Having previously discussed this possibility with the folks at Traditions, we opt not to answer additional calls because it’s unproductive. They explained to us that if we relented in that moment, even for a couple of days, that we may never get her back there. At 9 pm the night staff calls us because Mom is threatening to call the police. They call executive director Tara in who calms Mom down. At midnight we get voicemails telling us that we are terrible children and demanding to be picked up immediately. We couldn’t possibly feel worse.
Sept 14: No improvement in Mom’s disposition. She’s in a period of mourning for her old life being able to be independent. She keeps saying she wants to go “home”, but we know home doesn’t exist in the way she wants anymore because Dad is gone.
Sept 15: Patrick has to go back to Colorado to work but plans to be back when the movers finally do arrive.
Next several days: No improvement in Mom’s disposition - at least to us. Megan and Maria give us daily reports and pictures of Mom interacting with residents and participating in activities. To all of them she is lovely, which is such a relief. To me and Patrick, she is angry, resentful and sharp-tongued. It’s really starting to wear on us because we already have been feeling bad and guilty. We begin thinking things will never change.
Next couple of weeks: Same same. We go on like this for quite a while.
Sept 23: Patrick comes back to town to help with the movers who are coming with Mom’s things tomorrow! We bring Mom back to my house.
Sept 24-25: Mom’s belongings arrive! Patrick and I spend the next two days getting everything set up perfectly. We are really pleased and proud of our work.
Sept 26: We take Mom back to her apartment, excited to show her all her belongings, and…. She hates it! We are so deflated. This may be our life now - an angry, resentful mother for whom nothing is good enough. She identifies a long list of things she wants to change. I resign myself to more time off work getting her new bedroom furniture and hiring more movers to move heavy furniture around her apartment. We decide to give it a few days.
But then slowly, things start to turn around. Mom stops asking for new furniture. She starts talking about hanging out after lunch to talk to ladies. She starts mentioning other residents by name. When I show up, she is away at an activity. All this time, Meg and Maria are sending us pictures of Mom engaging with others and having a good time which we are taking on faith because that had not been her narrative with us until… suddenly it is! Mom is content, pleased, upbeat, a pleasure to talk to, a pleasure to be around. She’s HAPPY. It is everything we wanted for her.
As I write this, we are just before Thanksgiving. Mom has been in a good place for some time now. Patrick is coming for Thanksgiving, and we’ll all stay at my house. Patrick and I marvel at how when we talk, it’s no longer about a Mom emergency or problem. We find we are actually looking forward to spending Thanksgiving all together. THINGS ARE GOOD
Very long story short - it was hard. It was traumatic. But it was the best thing we could have done for Mom’s health and well-being as well as our own peace of mind. I only wish we had done it sooner.
— Deb G.
Indianapolis Oasis is part of a national nonprofit educational organization designed to enhance the quality of life for adults 50+. Oasis promotes healthy aging through lifelong learning, health and wellness and volunteer engagement. Our programs create opportunities for our members that encourage personal growth and meaningful service to the community.