Author Melanie Benjamin, 58, of Williamsburg, Va., Wishes she made her father harder to consider somewhere near her or her brother. Instead, she found herself returning frequently to Indianapolis as it began to fail quickly. âThe world is shrinking very quickly, and your parents’ friends and community are suddenly gone,â says Benjamin. “In balancing aging parents and their friends, it’s probably more important to be close to family who can organize care, introduce themselves and keep tabs on you.”
Another dominant theme was the timing of the move. Many families have told me that they waited too long to move their parents, which deprived them of the chance to put down roots in their new life situation, participate in activities and form lasting friendships. If someone can’t participate, everything is going to seem very foreign.
Mary Novaria, 62, of Evergreen, Colorado, is the oldest of three siblings. His father died years before his mother, who was an episcopal priest. When her mother started showing signs of dementia, the children transferred her to a senior citizens’ residence 10 minutes from Novaria’s house, so that she could be there frequently. When her health deteriorated, they had to move her back to an assisted living facility, and her mother was too sick and withdrawn to bond with the residents.
âI wish we had moved her to a continuing care facility so that she could make friends and have several options for activities,â says Novaria. “Instead, it was like having a kid in a whole new school when everyone already has their clique.”
Check the workforce
There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has put a strain on the healthcare system and the workforce. Staffing in many long-term care facilities is an important issue, and even in the best of circumstances, families need to be advocates. Benjamin’s father fell several times at night and she found herself trying to direct her care from a distance. The evening reception staff consisted mainly of a 20 year old young woman who was not strong enough to lift him. This led to the ambulance being called more times than necessary.
âAsk a lot of questions about the staff, especially who are on duty at night,â Benjamin suggests. “Make sure it’s more than a reduced crew!” “
Faith-based living establishments may have different rules than those that are not affiliated with a religion. Maureen Clark Newlove, 57, of New Canaan, Connecticut, thought they had it all figured out when her mother chose a Catholic retirement home. The family was comforted by the fact that the nuns live in the facility. When her mother began to fail, Maureen and her siblings produced their mother’s “do not resuscitate” order and living will. She had been firm about her wish to have no intervention to prolong her life. But when the siblings wanted to bring their own hospice service, they were told they had to use the one provided by the facility.
âMy mother basically starved to death over a 15-month period,â Newlove explains, explaining how she slowly deteriorated. “This was not the way she wanted to die at all,” and due to their regulations they would not increase her morphine level unless she said she was in pain, “Newlove said.” We should have asked ourselves the question: what is it like to die here?
Navigate through the sibling perspective
Finally, navigating this final chapter with siblings can be tricky. Each child in a family has a different perspective and relationship with their parents. Ligeia Polidora, 62, of Sonoma, Calif., Grew up in Wisconsin but has lived on the West Coast most of her life. She returned home to Madison to help her mother move into an assisted living facility and discovered that there was no “equality” when it came to dividing duties with siblings.
âThere is usually a brother or sister who has to step in and do the heavy lifting,â Polidora explains. âYou just can’t make decisions in committee, especially when the situation is urgent. Someone has to be the ‘ultimate decision maker’ and everyone has to find a way to make their peace with that, âshe adds. “My suggestion is to just support this person, don’t try to fight him and ask him how you can help him or look for ways to do it.”
Polidora also suggests that siblings who are not on the same page should look for ways to leverage their strengths. âIf someone is good at managing finances, they may be the right person for the job. And if someone is nearby and a good medical lawyer, that could be a good role for them – so that one person isn’t necessarily tense, but not everyone has to work together on things. She said.
Although this process is overwhelming, approaching it as you would any important decision can make a difference to you and your loved one. The federal government has online resources and a practical checklist you can print it out and take it with you when you visit healthcare facilities.