“Dad, It’s Time to Move”

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“Dad, It’s Time to Move”

My mother told me not too long before she died, “you’ll never know how much you’ll miss me until after I’m gone”. That was my mom, and of course she was right. Now that’s not exactly the point of this post but it does set the stage.  There are some things we can’t know or be completely prepared for. We can only imagine (or try to avoid imagining) the realities of losing a parent and becoming the caretaker for the other.

My mom died three years ago this month and my dad has done amazingly well adjusting, especially given that my parents were together for over 60 years. So, no one could ever prepare me for the reality of having to move my dad out of his home; familiar and comfortable with neighbors regularly checking in, saying hello, and binging food or something the child made for ‘Uncle Mel’. And I’m supposed to move him? No way!

At 87 years of age, still very independent and lively, my dad started falling; sometimes not being able to get up on his own or having to call 911. My wife had been suggesting that we look into ‘something’ for dad for months and I agreed. At least I pretended to. Secretly I just couldn’t go there. That is, until I went to visit him recently, sick with fever and struggling just to feel comfortable. He needed a little extra help, a little extra care. It was time.

We immediately found a wonderful retirement community, Brookdale, very near to where we live, inviting with a retreat like atmosphere, beautiful courtyard, and gardens.  Dad still loves to go for a swim so the newly remodeled pool will do just fine!  Delicious meals are freshly prepared each day and delivered to his room as needed. Best of all are the people, his age more or less, talking and relating and, ripe for dating and perhaps even a little romance!  (Turns out there are 10 women for every man. Great odds; what’s not to like? )

Well, as I said no one prepares you for the hard part. How do I break it to my dad? I know him; he was never the kind to change easily. What do I say without sounding like some soulless landlord giving an eviction notice or a dispassionate selfish son?  The ‘rehearsals’ in my head my head didn’t go well:

“Hey dad, how are you doing? Oh, by the way, I’m moving you into this really nice place which to you probably sounds like a creepy smelly nursing home or some horrible awful place they put old people to die!”

Imagine Marlon Brando as the Godfather; “We can do this one of two ways, the easy way, in which case you do what I say. Or the hard way, in which case you resist and I move you anyway!”

I’m so anxious and nervous thinking about how to talk to him about all of this. I kept thinking about my mom and how she just would say “Melvin, we’re moving, get packing!’ and that was that.

 

 

One actual conversation we had went like this;

‘Dad, you know how much you used to like to walk over to La Costa (world famous resort located near his home) and how wonderful and beautiful it is there?”

‘Yeah, I remember.”

‘Wouldn’t it be great to live in a place like that?’ I said, hoping for some agreement that would allay my anxiety and give me the opening I needed.

‘No I like being here at home, my hacienda, I’m used to it’.

Well, so much for that.

Time for plan ‘B’, I would get help from higher authorities: his rabbi and his doctor, trusted and possessors of wisdom on such delicate matters. I reached out to them, described the situation and shared my angst about how best to approach dad. While their counsel helped tremendously and I felt better knowing that I had their understanding and support, I was the one that needed ‘deliver the news’.

I had to tell dad that we weren’t just ‘going for lunch at a nice place with a pool.’ Yes, initially I put it to him this way. I came clean and told him that this was a visit with a specific purpose. Sigh.

“Dad,  I’m concerned for your health, and given that I travel quite a bit for my work, I want to make sure you are taken care of and get  the best care, whatever you might need, just in case.”

My Dad:  no reply, silence.

“So, let’s check it out. See what you think. There’s no rush (even though I had already given a deposit! Take a breath.)

A day later we’re driving to the Brookdale Retirement Community in my convertible, sunny day, top down, Frank Sinatra on the radio –  ‘gonna take a sentimental journey’. For the moment my dad seems happy and content. I still feel anxious but I’m happy at least to have gotten this far, over the hump. I’m hopeful this will all turn out okay.

We pull up and I help dad out. We are greeted as we enter the lovely bright foyer.

Friendly booming voice from just behind the front desk,  “Hello Mr. Bridge! Are you moving in today?”

I cringe “Oh no” I say, “we’re just here to check it out, see if we like it”

My instinct is show my dad the courtyard, sunny, perfectly manicured with roses blooming,

“Look dad, isn’t this nice? And oh, look at the pool! They keep it 85 degrees year round and there’s always someone to look after you, just in case.”

We start walking toward the opposite end of the courtyard. I tell him that this is the area where they have live music, a 50 piece orchestra next month! We walk a little further. I’m trying to see how dad feels about all of this. I’m hopefully optimistic. And then he says, seemingly from out of the blue:

“So when do you want me to move in?”

“What!” Did he just say that?

In that instant everything shifted and I’m not sure if I can tell you exactly how I felt when he said this; surprised, relieved, moved and extremely humbled.  I was so touched in that moment that dad knew it was right to make this move, even though this would be yet another change, another turn in the road, and the first time in over 60 years that he would be moving into a new place without mom.

Looking back I can see that while I was having anxiety about merely talking about all of this, my dad is actually the one whose life would most change and that he would be the one to have to experience it firsthand.  I needed to be willing to feel what this change would be like for him, to connect and bring a new level of compassion. And this is what happened.

I feel very blessed to have the love and support from family and friends to work through new territory and the things that I don’t know how to do. I am able to reach out and get the encouragement needed to do the right thing while staying connected; bridging the gap that sometimes exists between head and heart, and find the sacred place where they become One.

3 Comments

  1. Jerry,

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful and scary time in your life. I am dreading this happening to me, both parents are alive, but they are starting to show their dependence on others, I know this will be me within the next 5 years.

    Hope your dad is doing well and thank you for being such a caring and compassionate son!

    Carla

  2. Thanks Jerry for showing us the path that many of us will be needing soon! You are an inspiration in so many ways!
    Hope your Dad is enjoying this new chapter in his life!
    Julie

  3. I had a similar experience moving my Dad from his New York apartment to an assisted living facility in Orange County, CA. After spending weeks investigating the alternatives, I sat down with my Dad (with my brother there for moral support) and had “the conversation.” I was extremely nervous and wondered if my Dad would unleash his legendary temper on me. Much to my surprise and enormous relief, I got lucky. My Dad just said “maybe it is time for me to move into a place where I can get some help when I need it.” My Dad is a realist and accepted the fact that he had reached a new stage in life. So, if you ever find yourself in this situation, be brave, it may be easier than you think.

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