Caregiver story: Yvonne
It's been a "good story"
It’s now over four years since Yvonne’s* mom moved into a Guelph area retirement community, and as she tells it, “the whole family feels better with her living there.” We first shared Yvonne’s story in 2017. Since then, she says, “it’s been a good story.” Her mom, now 86, is not only doing well, she’s thriving in the retirement home she moved into.
In her late 70’s, Hazel* started experiencing health problems that were a big concern for Yvonne, who worked in health care. She understood the need for her mom to get help but in spite of her expertise, getting her mom “to even think about moving was painful!” This was despite the fact that her mother had been hospitalized several times and had, at one time, fainted while Yvonne was at home visiting her. Another health scare was a bout with pneumonia so severe that the entire family had gathered, expecting the worst. As difficult as those times are for Yvonne to look back on, the story has had a happy ending. But not without going through some painful steps and decisions along the way.
On top of overcoming her mother’s insistence that she would never move, other painful aspects included getting her entire family on board with the move, then packing and moving her mom's things from the Sarnia-area house she had lived in for more than 40 years. Then came the adjustment period during which Yvonne fretted that Hazel might want to cancel the whole thing.
The move was smoothed over by the fact that her mother had taken a trial stay. "That, too, was a big deal for her,” Yvonne admits, “to come all the way out here. And, you know, it took some convincing but we got her to just give it a try!" While her mother was in a trial stay, the family got together and had difficult conversations about what to do if mom did not want to move into a retirement community. No matter how the stay went, they all knew her mother could no longer live alone in her own home.
Little adjustments and a slow change of mind
But at the end of the two week trial stay, Hazel told Yvonne that she “had to admit that at least in some ways, the retirement community was a better place to be."
At first, the adjustment after moving was difficult for her mother, as can be expected. "It was the little things that were hardest," says Yvonne. Little adjustments in familiarity and expectations were big things for her mother. "If you've been in the same home for so many years, you know that the Christmas ornaments are under the stairs. It might seem like a small thing, but all the things she's accumulated in life were not where she was looking. She found that frustrating." The new noises of her new home were some of the most upsetting things to adjust to: the roll of a cleaning cart down the hallway at 9 pm, or the different sounds outside, in what was a new city for her.
After three months, though, her mom was used to things and her mom flourished. Her mom found that some of her old Windsor-area friends had also moved on, and she didn't really miss them. Missing her old home was even less of a factor. “We took her back to her house before we sold it, and she told us, 'This is not my home anymore. I have a new home.'
"In her new neighbourhood, she has lots of friends, and she even says they’re better, nicer friends than she's ever had. And, you know, the nice thing is that they're all right there” whenever she needs them. “She really loves that. And she really appreciates that she could never have that anywhere other than in a retirement home."
Money is a fact of life, but you can’t put a price on happiness
Yvonne is honest that having her mom in senior care is an extra expense. Since her mom has been rejuvenated by the move, they have calculated how long they can afford to help her mom. "That's one of the struggles we face,” she says, matter-of-factly. “There are no simple, one-size-fits-all answers for families. Including ours, we might find out." Still, Yvonne has no regrets at all, and she loves that her mom is indeed flourishing and that she's happier than she has been in some time.
She loves the life in the community. “They have a social calendar and she picks one thing every day or every other day to take part in. But she never misses Friday night, that’s when there’s a get together that involves the whole community. They’ve had a pig roast just lately and once a month it’s a special event to welcome new people. Or sometimes it’s a get together for games or whatever. That regular social time really makes her happy.”
Many little things like that are what really make her mother's new life great. Yvonne says, "she tells me, 'You know, I used to spend an hour every day just making supper—planning the meal, buying the food, making it, cleaning up… all of that all by myself.'" Now her mom realizes that all that trouble was just not worth it. "'Now, I eat differently every day, and I eat with different people every day.' She's also put on weight—in a positive way. She'd been underweight when she was living alone. And she says she loves every meal.” She loves her own room where she can make her own breakfast if she wants, but sometimes she just keeps a bagel from the night before. Her package includes lunch and dinner daily.
“She gets some help with some daily tasks there and she uses a rollator, but she also gets more exercise just moving around the community than she ever did when she was in her own home. Another telltale sign is that she’s just so much healthier. She had been hospitalized a number of times over the years but she has not had one hospitalization since moving there. She’s better now 85,” said Yvonne in 2019, “than she was at 79."
2021: Life during the COVID-19 pandemic
The pandemic has hit everyone hard. For her mom, “it was not good,” Yvonne admits, but she rightly adds, “It hasn’t been good for any of us. No one is living a normal life. None of us are visiting friends like we would be doing. None of us has been going out.” Pandemic fatigue hit everyone including Hazel and Yvonne, who just retired from her job, in part due to COVID-fatigue.
Her insider's understanding of health care remains strong, though. “One of the side effects of the pandemic,” she tells us, “is that people with regular, and sometimes serious health concerns are putting off consulting with health professionals.” Appointments were restricted to phone or Zoom only, doctor availability has been sporadic, people’s patience wears thin quickly. It was discovered that her mom had had a mild cardiac issue but it was still caught in time. She’s fine but may have been better, were it easier to visit health care.
Like everyone, she’s looking forward to a return to the new normal whatever shape that has. The Guelph retirement home in which she lives did have an outbreak, but in Yvonne’s opinion, “they handled it well. They contained it to a few rooms and there was one death, but it could have been worse with this virus.” Other than that, there were no problems. As of summer 2021, Hazel’s life, like all of ours, slowly returns to that nebulous new normal.
Read the original story about Yvonne moving her mother into a retirement home.