Thursday, July 24, 2008


When my parents decided to move here (oh, about day eight of visiting their new grandson, when they bought a house) it hit them: they'd have to find a home for my grandmother.

When my grandfather passed away in September, we found out how bad things really were. I think Grampa covered for her a lot, when she couldn't remember. And his presence probably comforted her, too. Smoothed out the rough edges of what she didn't understand. And he was the most patient of men.

Then we (by which I mean, my parents--I was safely ensconced back in Portland by then) moved Grandma into a senior home and really found out how bad things were. It started with the hourly calls to my parents' house ("something's wrong with this hotel!"), the panicky searches for cash ("where's my spending money?"), the near-escapes ("I need to get back to Duluth."). It ended with her decking an attendant.

All ninety-eight pounds of her ninety-two year old self, decking an attendant because he wouldn't let her run out in the middle of a Michigan winter.

We had to face it--what we had taken for dottiness, for gentility, was actually Grandma losing the ability to remember things. She was moved to the Reminiscences wing as soon as there was an opening. Which is a very genteel way of saying, someone else died so we took their room.

So Mom and Dad decided to move to Portland, and more on the "sooner" timeline rather than the "later" one--where could Grandma go? And more importantly, where could Grandma go quickly? Grandma staying in the house with them was difficult. She'd wake up in the middle of the night, panicky, lost, confused, agitated. Where could we get her to stay so that she could stay there the first night?

I did the shopping, and got a whole new perspective on elder care. It's actually a lot like daycare. There's differing philosophies on how to provide said care, but when it comes right down to it: you walk in a place and can picture your loved one there, you can picture a visit there.

I went to four different homes, calling my mom after each visit to update her on what I saw. They were fine, really--Grandma would have been fed, been cared for, seen a doctor, gotten her meds at each one, but some didn't feel right. One felt like everyone there was so much worse than Grandma, it'd bring her down to their level. One felt like a hotel: generic art on the walls, and a long, endless hallway of just rooms. It was the last one that struck that cord in me, that set that thrum. Organized into "cottages" in a cohort idea, so that everyone in each cottage is at roughly the same level of ability, a dozen rooms organized around a comfy, cosy, common space.

"That's it," I called mom to say. "It's the furthest away from home, but that's the one."

It's been, what, two months now? I go to visit grandma, I try to make it once a week, I make it about once every two weeks. I bring the baby--which, let me tell you, bring a baby to a retirement home? You are the most popular person there that day, let me tell you. Sometimes too popular. But she loves it. "Is that so?" my grandmother asks as Howie coos at her. "I don't believe a word of it!" she replies with a smile.

It's tough, because she asks his name every time we come. "Howie," I say. "Oh! That was my husband's name!" she'll tell onlookers. "He would have been so happy."

I always agree with her.

But even better, the other day she said to my mom, "I think I could like it here." Those are words we haven't heard out of her mouth in... ever.

I think this move will be good for her.


Aggie said...

When we moved my grandparents into assisted living here in MN they were in the 80's or so. Grandma complained that she didn't like hanging out with the "old people".

Katrina said...

Babies and kids just make the residents day!!!! It is one of the best things you can do! I used yo take my kids to where my mum was working and to see the joy in the residents faces gave me such a warm fuzzy feeling