I was recently asked by a friend, “What do people need to know when deciding upon assisted living?”
I thought about the question, and as I did, an image began to form. To be exact, there were two images: the first; my mother and I walking into a kindergarten classroom on the first day of school. My mother, intent on protecting me from anyone or anything that could threaten her first-born, and me, feeling awkward and self conscious in a room full of new faces.
But it was the second image that caught me off guard. I was simply unprepared for the emotional jack-hammer that dug up memories I was sure I had buried — like Chernobyl –under layers of concrete and steel.
These memories themselves were recent – the wounds still open sores. In this series of images, I hold my mother’s hand as we walk into an administrator’s office in a Lehigh County, Pennsylvania-run skilled nursing facility. Mom’s hand trembles. She is terrified.
When we leave the office, she pleads, “Please don’t put me in here,”she says. “Please, I beg you.”
NOTA BENE: Before you draw any conclusions, you need to know the facts. My sister and her husband HAD CARED for my mother 24/7 for more than ten years after my mother’s stroke. They even built a lovely apartment attached to their home, so my mother could have the sensation of independent living when she chose to.
Everyone had done their best – no one was to blame. My mother had simply reached a point where TIAs and loneliness had created a psychotic break. She needed to be around people. She needed to be part of a community.
She has improved markedly since her move. And like her eight billion cohabitants on this planet: she has her good days and . . .well, you understand.
Our long-term care system has failed us. Not because there aren’t enough elegant buildings to house our elders, but because developers build impressive complexes — not communities. And what we need — desperately — are communities.