Two years ago this month, I took a big step and made a down payment on an apartment in a local continuing care retirement community (CCRC). I was motivated to do this for at least two reasons. First of all, Kate and I cared for our parents for twenty-four years. We didn’t mind that. We would do it all over again if faced with the same situations; however, we wanted to make sure our children’s responsibilities for our care would be minimal. I don’t recall that we talked about a specific way to do that, but I felt that we needed to plan for an easy transition to the last chapter of our lives. Neither of us wanted to put them in the often awkward position of letting us know that it was time to give up driving or to move out of our home. Living in some type of senior living facility was always an option. I didn’t establish a specific time frame for a move or assume that we would have to move at all. I approached life a step at a time and was prepared to make changes as I thought needed before our children would feel the need to step in.
That leads to the second reason for my decision. Kate was approaching the last stage of Alzheimer’s. I was handling things with minimal help, four hours of paid help three afternoons a week. She had become totally dependent on me, and I began to wonder what would happen to her if something happened to me. That was the catalyst that led me to explore a CCRC. We have several local options, and, in the past, I had visited at least four of them. I’ve known quite a few people who lived or had lived in the one I chose. It was one of two that were located in places I felt would be convenient for us. I knew the marketing director and that they were about to begin construction on a new building for independent living. I made an appointment with him. Two weeks later, I gave him our down payment.
I haven’t waivered in my decision since that time. As time passed, Kate declined, and the pandemic hit us. At least one of my good friends has asked several times if I were eager to make the move. The answer was and still is that I am not eager, but I believe it’s the right decision. It provides access to all the options we might need in the future. That includes assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, and rehab. In addition, the doctor who established the geriatric practice with which Kate’s doctor is affiliated has opened a practice on the grounds in the building next door to ours. Yes, he makes house calls as well. I haven’t made the change for Kate just yet, but her doctor and I have talked about it. She actually suggested that as a good possibility. I intend to explore it further once we move in.
Having made that decision two years ago, I’ve learned a couple of things. One is that two years is not a long time. It passed quickly. Had I been eager to move, I’m sure I would have thought the day would never come. That doesn’t mean that I have any regrets about my original decision. I don’t. I also believe I made it at the right time. I didn’t want to move when it might have been disturbing for Kate. Her decline during that time has been significant. I don’t expect her adjustment will be difficult although I feel equally sure she will notice some difference in her environment.
The second thing I’ve learned is that a move like this is stressful. I’ve had an abundance of help. In addition to Kate’s caregivers and the woman who cleans our house, I engaged three other people to assist me with different aspects of the move. One is the decorator Kate has worked with about thirty years. She helped me decide on the furnishings to take with us. I know someone else whose business is assisting seniors who want to downsize. She is handling all aspects of the physical move itself. The third is a woman who has cared for the plants in our yard, on the patio, and front porch. She has also taken care of our holiday decorations. She and I have been worked together 6-8 months getting rid of things in our closets, cabinets, and attic.
Despite this assistance, I have found it impossible to turn over everything to them. There are just many decisions I need to make myself. In fact, I view this move, possibly our last one, as a continual process of decisions regarding what is important in life. Numerous times, I have looked at boxes of “things” we have accumulated over the years and thought a person in the ministry could preach a year’s worth of sermons about them. Most of them are of little value to me now. I’ve discovered they are also of little value to our children or anyone else.
That said, I’ve found that what matters most are intangibles. Uppermost in my mind are the memories that I will take with me. Recently, our weather has been perfect for getting outside. Kate, her caregiver, and I have spent time as much time as we can on our patio enjoying the spring flowers and watching the new growth of leaves on the forest of trees behind our house. It’s been a therapeutic break from the preparations of moving and brought back memories of the good times we’ve had here. I especially remember special celebrations like my parents’ 65th and 70th anniversaries, my dad’s 100th birthday and those leading up to it starting with his 90th. There were also grandchildren’s visits and the time spent in and around the pool. I would also include the almost 5 ½ years Kate’s mother spent with us with 24/7 care provided by 6-7 caregivers who became part of our family. But most of all, I think of the good times with Kate before and after her diagnosis, and it is all but certain we will have more of them during the next week that we are here. I will leave with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude for these memories and many more.
The other day I thought about the move my parents made from their home to live close to us. My dad was the same age I am now, nearing 81. They had lived in South Florida much longer than we have lived here. The move was stressful for him. My mom was in the early stage of dementia. He did his best to see that she got acquainted with people. One of the first things he did was join a local senior center. He became active in Kiwanis and a seniors writing group. He loved his computer and kept up an active email correspondence with friends from the past and many new ones. He adapted very well and lived to be 100. I’m optimistic that I’ll do the same.