I had the privilege of helping my Godmother, S celebrate her 96th birthday last weekend. As I drove to the NC mountains, I felt a bit sad that I wouldn't be able to stay in her home since she is now residing in an assisted living facility. This sad feeling gradually lifted as I enjoyed several precious moments with S that taught me a few things about community living and the tough decisions that led up to the move.
First, I took S shopping. There isn't much in life that S likes more than shopping. And since she doesn't need more than two closets filled with clothes, I asked her to help me shop for a conference room table for my office in Raleigh. S was thrilled to have a mission and eager to direct me where to go. It wasn't until we went into the second furniture outlet that I discovered S knew the owner and had worked with his brother 65 years earlier. The owner called his brother to come over and visit us. At some point in the conversation, the brothers talked about their loved one who had lived in the same assisted living facility. From this affirmative conversation, I could see that S felt comfortable and somewhat proud that she was not simply living IN a facility, but rather WAS LIVING someplace that people respected and trusted to provide care for loved ones.
Second, S and I had a very serious conversation over dinner about the events that led up to her moving into care. She doesn't remember the details or how she felt when she fell and started having mini-strokes last summer. But she does remember what others have told her because for a good while, she kept asking folks to describe what she was like. At dinner, S told me that she is glad to be living where she is as she now accepts that she isn't able to care for herself on her own. In essence, S expressed gratitude that she had not died at home because regaining her health and happiness has been a huge blessing for herself and others. Her life has now become more important than living at home.
Finally, I knew that S was fully integrated into her community when I took her home, completely exhausted and a little wobbly with her walker. I helped put the groceries away and hang up her coat. I thought she would go directly to bed as she had remarked several times that she was tired and it was "certainly a late night." When I hugged her and started out the door, she quickly turned around and grabbed her walker to follow me. When I told her that she didn't need to walk me out, she replied, "Oh, I'm not. I've got to go tell the gang about my day!"