The Friendly Home

Sometime in my late 20’s, I started volunteering at this assisted living center for women.

It is where I got my first impression of options for aging seniors.

It was not always a pretty picture.Friendly

The place had been serving women for over 100 years.

The facilities were lovely, very home-like, welcoming, well-maintained.

The food was excellent, the social calendar was full.

But there was something else. There was the loneliness.

A few times a year, I went there with a group of young women as part of a community service effort. We dined with them, engaged them in conversation, crafts, sing-a-longs, holiday gift exchanges, etc.

The women I remember were wealthy, well-adorned, flawlessly groomed, of reasonably good health. They came to dinner with diamonds, pearls, tailored dresses, fur wraps.

They also came with pictures. Family photos of the folks who had mostly left them behind.

They knew of the financial support, but complained of infrequent visits, the phone calls that seldom came, the lack of presence.

I always left there with a sense of sadness. These were not the poor, disadvantaged or disenfranchised. These were women who gave their life to their families, the ones who had now safely housed them away.

Or so it seemed.

I’m sure there were other stories. The ones they didn’t want to share. The family quarrels, the separation, the alienation, over issues both important and ridiculous.

But still. They were alone. They went there to die.

It’s the first thing that came to mind when my mother-in-law moved to an independent living community. She has a large, lovely apartment. She lives quite independently. She still has her home, just in case.

I think I understand why she is reluctant to sell it. A backup plan.

Maybe even an escape route.

Time will tell.

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51 Responses to The Friendly Home

  1. Judy Martin says:

    I know what you mean, Van. Although some of these places seem to have all the right amenities, it does not detract from the fact that most of these people are lonely and sad.

  2. In the middle east parents usually live with their kids and people often argue over who gets them! One lady I knew from Burma had a beautiful mom who had 10 kid,s each one was mad at my friend (jokingly I hope) because she got mom for more than the others.Mom (a lovely lady) stayed with one kid for a few months then another kid complained they wanted her! I was really touched. My lovely friend explained to me that it was an honor for whoever got to have her with them!

  3. Van, you’ve captured a picture of my thoughts concerning these living centers. I remember the first place we lived in when we moved to Houston was near an assisted living center for old people and even though I didn’t go in, I would sometimes see the folks step out in two’s or alone and I always wondered how they felt. No matter how much material comfort surrounds us in this place, it is the attention and the love of our loved ones that we crave for most especially in the twilight days. I try to speak to my mother virtually every other day. Ever since my dad passed on, it’s stuck on my mind that I have only one parent remaining and I want her to stay for as long as ever. A call shouldn’t take much from family members, even if it’s just to say hello, how are you doing? It brightens up their day a whole lot.

  4. Ritu says:

    I hear you Van… we had reason for visiting a home and the sadness I felt on leaving was palpable. My kids would go too and the joy these old folk got from seeing little people was amazing. .. yet their own families chose to not come. ..

  5. Elyse says:

    When my father-in-law died, my mother-in-law moved into a senior facility not far from us. She had an independent apartment, made great friends, was close to shoppings and the subway so she no longer needed to drive. We all visited and had her out regularly to our house for barbeques, took her for rides. it was a terrific solution.

    Fast forward 5 years, though and she has had to move out of her apartment into the assisted living part of the complex. There she has a small room, and a lifetime of possessions she doesn’t want to get rid of are stacked everywhere. She has visitors (us), still gets taken out, but can no longer manage the subway or the errands she used to be able to do. It bothers her. While we (and my husband’s sister) help, that’s really not what she wants — she wants to be independent again. And she doesn’t want to live with us. So we all make the best of this method of aging.

    • Thanks for sharing your all too common story, Elyse. I can already see health issues taking their toll on the quality of the MIL’s life and independence. She is 86, and seemed to rebound from the grief of losing her husband late in 2013. Still…There is only 1 sibling who lives near, the rest travel hundreds of miles, and that’s hard for/on everyone.

  6. kingmidget says:

    We’re starting to deal with some of these things as well. My father-in-law is not doing well. He is still at home, but is “in hospice.” He’s at the point where there really isn’t much left, there are no good options.

  7. Nurse Kelly says:

    This was a beautifully written, poignant post Van, on a topic that is never easy. My paternal grandmother was in a facility where she started in independent living and then moved into assisted living when she required it. It was actually a wonderful place and time in her life. She had lived with my grandfather who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and became quite mean in the last few years of his life before he passed… so it was like a new lease on life for her when she moved in. She made a lot of new friends and took part in many of the activities. She was really happy there until she passed at the age of 98 just a couple of years ago. But I know each individual’s experience in unique. Hope all is well with you, and I hope you have a lovely Sunday. xo

    • This is very similar to the experience that the MIL is having. She is enjoying the company and activities of independent living, but misses her home, and her life and focuses so much on visits from us. I think, in her heart, she’d like to live with one of us, but doesn’t want to move away from all she knows, and her many doctors there. Thanks, Kelly. It is a sensitive topic for us all. 💕 And…they will need a whole lot more of those places as we baby boomers age. ☺

  8. I think what makes a difference is if such places can still root themselves into the wider community. When we lived in Argyll, lots of local groups were involved with visiting and providing entertainment to the local care home which was largely caring for people with advanced dementia. But that was a small, rural, remote community. I think when people are far flung from elderly family members and are preoccupied with the busy nature of their own lives, it’s all too easy to assume that someone else is providing the care the elderly need but there’s a difference between care and attention.

    • So very true. And these senior centers seem to be popping up all over. They offer the progression…independent living, then assisted living, and in her case, a University hospital. I’m sure so many don’t see their way out of the system. Care vs. attention…well said, Laura. 💘

  9. “Time will tell” is a line I’ve been using frequentlylately, especially concerning the poor health of someone love. I spend a lot of my time caring for a family member. I’m told this person is lucky to have me. I’ve learned to respond with a thank you.

  10. LaVagabonde says:

    I can understand the sadness, but It can work out for the better, too. My paternal grandmother came to life when she moved into a home. She had been so lonely at home for so long. She suddenly had social events and was never alone.

    • That is a huge positive, Julie, to not be alone. Yet, one other aspect…the gossip, the chatter, the jealousy, the social pressures seem to all come back in full force. Geriatric middle school mentality. sigh…

  11. Very insightful post. We need to rethink how we treat the elderly. People who can afford to pay for assisted care is one thing, what about those who can’t? Makes me sick to my stomach to think about it. ❤
    Diana xo

    • This particular place in Michigan has become a non-profit in the ensuing years, Diana, and charges on a scale now, as I understand it. But you’re right…so many others are out of reach, or take every last cent that a senior has. It’s rough out there. There ought to be a better way. Thanks. 💝

  12. nancyruth says:

    Nicely written and thought provoking. Elder care is often a puzzle. My sister recently was moved into an assisted care home. She calls me much more frequently (I live many states away) and often it feels inconvenient. But then I think she is lonely and if it were me I would be glad to have a phone call even short ones. Our Dad thrived initially when we moved him to a home since it was a few years since Mom passed. But then Parkinsons got the better of him. Independence was very improtant for him and I am my father’s daughter about tha as well. Not an easy time for folks.

  13. George says:

    That’s such a difficult decision. As a teenager I worked in the kitchen of a nursing home and the thing I remember most is what you describe. The loneliness of the patients. Every Time I walked into their room or through the general area, they would all want me to stop and speak with them. How sad to be in that situation.

    • It must have made such an impression on you as a teen, George. I know how it affected me in my 20’s. I’ll never forget how I felt about it all at the time, and it colors my attitude even today. Maybe, more so today. Thanks. ❤️

  14. Today my husband and I visited my parents in their new assisted living memory care community. They had been isolating themselves and refusing medical care. This community offers around the clock nursing. Very helpful as my father has dementia and my mother has been unable to speak since November when she had a stroke.

  15. TanGental says:

    Oh dear how resonant of my MIL. I think my mote had both her mother and MIL to stay at home in part so that loneliness didn’t happen. And she surrounded herself with friends of all ages right to the end. She refused to think badly of people.

  16. Such an interesting post and so many thoughtful comments. When I used to work with hospice, I listened to many stories of people at the ends of their lives. Some were grateful for the time they spent as caretakers of older parents and others were resentful of the years lost to a relationship that had never been a happy one. The quality of the relationships are key. My parents are resisting any move to “senior” housing, even though they would be nearer to my brother and I, and see us far more frequently. Aging is complicated, huh?

    • You reinforce what I was trying to say about those “other stories” that seniors don’t want to address…those lifelong failed relationships. So sad, and yes, so very complicated. So many people I know would resist senior housing and no matter how difficult, stay in their home till the end. Thanks, Diana. 💖

  17. Yes it is so sad.. I know from visiting my own in-laws who both went into nursing care at the same home.. There was a large family of my husbands and they had spent 3 years travelling to sleep over and take it in turns to stay with them and care for them.on a rota system.. But it just got impossible to give them 24 hour continual care. So the decision was made..
    They actually thrived and did a lot better in the outset.. As community sing-a-longs and Bingo and entertainment kept them going..
    There were plenty of us to visit.. But it was always sad to see the ones with no one who came to see them..
    Families are precious.. And so many forgo them for the what they perceive as their riches in life.. Diamonds although they shine bright, bring little warmth to the heart..

    Wonderful of you to volunteer and give of your time back then .. Bless you
    Sue ❤

    • Three years spent visiting and rotating care is pretty amazing, Sue, they are to be honored for that. My MIL stayed 1 year alone in her home. She had a few falls that were worrisome, but she really resisted leaving. It’s a lovely senior center, but as she says constantly…”it’s just not home.” She is much less lonely there, but she holds on to the idea of returning home. Thanks for sharing your story. 💕 I was proud to volunteer, it was eye-opening.

      • Yes it is eye opening… I was a Support Worker for almost 11 years with Adults with learning difficulties.. Autism, Downs Syndrome and mental disorders.. Where a project of 4 houses on the same street was set in place.. 3 to each house. And two in a Bungalow in another part of the town.
        Some were hands on personal care, others were to support them manage how to live independently, to cope with bills, shopping, cooking etc.. It was 24/7 care.. One would sleep in on call and do a day shift of 8 hours.. And it was amazing how many times we would have to get up in the night. 🙂 lol. and trot down the street in our Pj’s as one loved to press his emergency cord haha. Mentally draining at times, but well worth the rewards from seeing how we brought some of them along 🙂 So I praise you indeed for your volunteering..

      • It’s such an honorable job. A dear friend of mine has devoted her life to working with development of independent living skills, in a poor mountain area of Pennsylvania. Kudos to you, Sue. Thanks for sharing. ❤️

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