Life is Full of Transitions

And retirement life is no different in having major life transitions. Some transitions are planned, some are unexpected, and some planned but have a lot of uncertainty still involved. Beyond the transition of leaving a full-time career, other life transitions in my own retirement years included starting and ending a consulting “second career”, dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis, shifting away from being a caregiver of my SIL, and making a major 900-mile move that was not in our original retirement vision. Those are the big transitions; there are many little ones as I’ve explored what I’ve wanted my retirement life to be like and dealt (like everyone else) with the COVID pandemic’s impact on daily living.

 I am now facing another major life transition.  My mom has moderate cognitive decline and entered an assisted living facility; she elected to enter one near me versus where she was living, which was near my brother and 500 miles from me. I’m sharing some of the emotionally and physically draining challenges of this latest transition, as I think others might realize that they are not alone if facing a similar situation.  As I’ve been reading on dealing with someone with cognitive decline, I know it’s more about how I need to adapt/change in this new life transition.

Having dealt with 4 other moves in the last 5 years (my SIL twice, us first downsized and then the Big Move to Florida) has greatly helped on this move for my mom.  I had all the checklists!  But it has been more emotionally and physically draining than anticipated, I think partly due to my mom’s cognitive decline.  And while the checklists exist, there is still the act of doing it all.

My mom can no longer remember things and her response is often, “get rid of it”.  I’ve had to salvage lots of family photos, an heirloom quilt, and the cross she has had forever on her wall (I think it’s from her baptism!).  She insists, “I don’t need anything” and then gets frustrated with not having a fresh nightgown to wear, has holes in her socks, and pants that fall off (she lost significant weight but will not buy new clothes). I need to learn how to manage these situations without upsetting her.

How many arguments will I need to not fight?  I need to learn to suck it up and let her “win”, even if she is not right.  Will it matter in the long run… that she’s never used the ottoman with that chair (she has), that none of her shoes fit right because they are wrong size (they’re not), that she’s never been somewhere or never eaten something before (she has on both), that she’s never taken this medicine before (she has), or that the direct deposit money is in the bank without her going in to check on it (yes, it’s there).   On the positive side, she agreed to let the AL staff manage her medications (a relief for me), gave up her computer (she couldn’t figure out email any longer), and seems to be settling into the flow of living at the facility (meals, activities, housekeeping).

I need to find a new rhythm with how much to visit and how much to let her be. Two people have said to me, when I mentioned my mom going into assisted living, that I “should visit her every day” – that’s the expectation for a good daughter!

I need to come to terms with returning to being a primary caregiver.  And being the peacemaker, which comes quite naturally.  Of course, I have been trying to not always be the accommodating one and allow my own needs to be first. Now, it’s back to my old self (for a time) – being responsible for someone else and accommodating to their needs.

It’s been a challenging couple of weeks (and less time for blogging). I know things will settle into a new rhythm and I’ll learn to adapt to her changing cognitive capability and being close by for regular visiting (instead of phone calls).

If you’ve dealt with a similar situation, any words of advice?

Picture Credit: me – a sunrise one morning this week

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29 thoughts on “Life is Full of Transitions

  1. Our situation is a little different. My mom lived with her sister in NC until 12 years ago when her sister suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. We knew she had to live with or near one of us. My sister was adamant that my mom would live with her. She would not listen to any counter suggestion. Then, 24 hours later, she walked out on the situation and said she just couldn’t do it!!

    For a number of reasons, the responsibility then became mine. We moved her here and found a nice, independent living apartment for her in Blue Ash. She would come over for Sunday dinner and we’d see her occasionally during the week.

    She will turn 94 next month and there is not a thing wrong mentally with maybe an occasional memory failing, but I think that happens to all of us. However, she is extremely frail physically and gets more so every month. She also has severe macular degeneration to the point where her right eye is useless and she has very limited vision in her left eye. She fell in the hallway of her apartment building about a year ago and had a number of bruises and cuts, but fortunately, no broken bones. After that, I suggested that I thought AL was the right choice for her. She pushed back hard on that. We even found a great place within walking distance of our house. She liked it when we toured there, but could not accept the idea of a routine for meals, despite having a two hour window for each meal, so she stayed in her independent living situation.

    Now, she is completely dependent on us for grocery shopping, medical appointments, and everything else. My wife and I joke about her “independent living”.

    The big problem is that we are the only ones in town. We have no family here. My brother lives in Louisville and my sister lives in Berwick, PA. We are very hesitant to go out of town and we hold our breath whenever we are gone for even a few days. This situation has had a big, negative impact on our retirement plans. We are getting older and might be unable to do some of the things we had planned at some point. We wanted to have the freedom to just pick up and go and be gone for a month if we wanted to be, but that’s all out the window. I have told my mom that if she has another fall, staying in her current apartment will no longer be an option, but her frailty may even prompt such a move without a fall.

    Meanwhile, we are doing the best we can and mourning the retirement we thought we would have. Life is nothing if not unpredictable.

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  2. I’m sorry you are having to deal with this on your own. It’s a difficult time. Since you asked, I would offer the following advice/response to people who say you should visit your Mom every day “to be a good daughter:” B.S. The quality of visits is more important that the quantity of visits. You need to be satisfied that your Mom has good care, obviously, but you also need to take care of yourself during this time. So, spend quality time doing both of these things. Good luck to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tracey, Really, really trying to re-establish my own rhythm, which will now include visits with my mom. Of course, there was a glitch in that already… my mom tested positive for COVID and is now quarantined to her room. Talk about isolation! Yes, this will pass, but another bump in the road… a rough start to 2023!

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  3. We have dealt with my wife’s father’s battle with dementia and death last year. Before that was my mother’s death and dealing with settling her estate in 2020. Also last year, my wife had cancer treatment for breast cancer. It seems that our lives are in constant transition with no “return to normal” until the next thing hits. From the comments, it appears that all of us go through similar transition periods. We can only deal with them the best that we can. Hang in there!

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    1. No one really talks about the “no return to normal” when we talk about the retirement journey. I know I try and stay positive about things, but we are all facing many of the same life challenges – parent’s decline/death, cancer treatments, joint replacements, spouses passing. Knowing we are not alone on the journey is helpful – to me anyway. But, I am hoping for a new normal…which I know will continue to shift as my mom’s dementia progresses.

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  4. Hi Pat, I know exactly what you are going through. My MIL has dementia, and Malcolm is an only child, so he has sole responsibility. She is 93 and still lives alone in her own home. Personally, I think she would be better off in a facility, but she refuses and Malcolm won’t force the issue. I stand by not-so-quietly each time she has a ‘new development’ and his stress level goes up, but, it is not my decision.

    My advice on the issue of visiting is to go with your gut. Your mom is not alone. She has a professional staff of caring people and other residents that can provide companionship to her. Checking in on them once in a while, to make sure she is receiving proper care is probably more important than sitting with her for an hour a day. Don’t let guilt be your motivator. That one never ends well. Good luck.

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    1. Suzanne, Thanks for your verbal support. My brother and I were on different pages for this move. He thought she was fine living by herself. Now that I see her more, I am more confident that it was the right move.

      Unfortunately, she picked up COVID (within first 3 weeks at facility), so is once again isolated. I will not feel guilty about that (OK – there is a bit of guilt). So right now, I am visiting her daily – they do stop in to deliver her meals and her meds and to check on her, but she’s alone in her studio room now the entire time. Really hard for her. Luckily, she’s not feeling that bad with COVID – very mild case – but the isolation is hard in one room!

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  5. Oh, Pat, I have been right there. Maybe not on a daily basis but during so many visits to Kentucky to try to help my brother help our mom. My mom attempted suicide the days before moving into assisted living with my father. So we had mom in a psychiatric facility while trying to get my ailing father and all of their things moved before mom was released. We tried to set up the new apartment like the old one – down to putting things back in the China cabinet exactly where they were before. Exactly. Etc. And despite all our efforts, nothing was satisfactory. Horribly hard days. And she attempted suicide twice more after that.

    I think, I hope your mom will settle into a routine at the assisted living facility. My mom did once my father died. She played bridge on certain days, attended ‘exercise’ and played Bingo. She became very involved for a time and that was a huge blessing to her and to us. I would suggest having a calendar with your visits marked plainly on it for your mom to see. I don’t think you need to go every day. Maybe at first, to help her adjust. You could go for Bingo, or exercise or eat lunch with her a few times til she makes friends. But then ween her away from depending on your visits. And set up a schedule so she knows you have a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, and will be grocery shopping on Wednesday but will have lunch with her on Thursday. In the last few months before she died, Mom couldn’t keep track of the days of the week (I am already struggling – oy vey). So we wrote everything in BIG WRITING on a BIG CALENDAR.

    Also you might look into a ViewClix. Amazing gadget!! You can call your mom and see her on the screen. She doesn’t have to do a thing. No pushing buttons to answer your call. Nothing. And when the ViewClix isn’t busy with a call, you can upload photos that she can see of the family. Like a slide show. Simple to upload. Simple to use. Life SAVER!!

    And we bought a clock with the time, day, month, year in very large digital display. And a watch that told her the date when she pushed a button. Oh, we had all the things. I could write a book.

    If I can help in anyway, please email me, mommyhon333@hotmail.com. We have walked this same path. Sending you love.

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    1. My heart goes out to you…. I knew your mom had some challenges in the AL facility, but wasn’t aware of the suicide attempts. My mom has good days and bad, which I’m seeing more of as I now see her more (versus phone calls). On bad days, she does talk about not wanting to be here. As I know one of her biggest fears in life was getting Alzheimer’s, this is really hard for me. But on good days, she talks about enjoying the new activities. Now – she’s got COVID! She is not feeling bad (they got her on anti-viral meds immediately), but needs to quarantine…stuck in her room for 7-10 days. ACK. So, I’ve been visiting with her for 2-3 hours each day. Eventually I hope to get to a different rhythm of visiting. I know things will settle in, but it’s been a rough start.

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  6. We may need to talk (I need therapy) when I’m in Florida. I am so in the middle of this type of situation and I go from feeling angry to guilty every day. My sister feels the need for someone to visit him every day but I don’t. That’s where the guilty part comes in. She also lives closer than I do. I currently visit 2 days/week and she’s there the other 5. I actually think it’s made him more dependent on us than if we left him alone more. He’s had multiple UTIs which creates confusion for him and then he messes up his medications. We have finally decided to let the AL facility give him his meds, even though it increases the cost quite a bit. It’s just become too dangerous. I hate seeing him like this. I know he’s terribly unhappy. It’s definitely an emotional roller coaster for me. I was feeling bad about leaving for six weeks in Florida, but I decided I needed it for myself. I can still handle a lot of things from afar, just not visits. Hang in there.

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    1. Let’s connect when you’re here. I decided to let the AL do her meds from day one – which was a bit of a battle with her as she felt she could still do that. Allowing her independence on things without fear of danger is a balance. Right now I’m on daily visits (she’s quarantined with COVID – damn) but hoping to eventually get to 3-4 times a week. I’m lucky in that before she tested positive for COVID, she was “trying on” all the different activities – enjoying bingo and Wii bowling. Right now, yeah – my stress level is high.

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  7. Are you familiar with CareBlazers? Good information to perhaps look into. Thanks for sharing the journey you are taking with your Mom. It is very helpful information. I have someone I think is in the very beginning early stages. Somedays there is nothing going on, all is normal & then other days so many odd & weird things happen.

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    1. Karen, I will look into CareBlazers (had not hear about it)- thanks. My mom’s cognitive decline has been going on for quite a few years. We (I) took her car keys away almost a year ago, as she was getting lost coming back from normal errands. She stopped cooking over a year ago – couldn’t remember how to cook things, left things on stove (multiple scorched pots). She kept messing up the computer (I’ve taken it away now as she cannot remember what email is.) She just wasn’t the same person – I’ve noticed in conversation for a few years. Now, she has good days and bad. On bad days, she cannot recall how to use the TV. Luckily, she still know who we all are. I know things might get worse…and I know this was the right move for her.

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  8. Oh Pat I’m so sorry that this is your “new normal” it must be heartbreaking to watch your mum decline and to have to deal with all that goes with it. I dread that happening with my mum (or MIL) because I’m not sure that I have the compassion within myself to sustain the care long term. I certainly believe that you need to visit when you feel strong enough to and I don’t think that will be every day – and I don’t think your mum would mind as long as you are visiting regularly. My heart goes out to you – it’s a slow and sad time when we’re gradually losing our parents. x

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    1. Leanne, Thanks for your support. This week, things just seemed to get a bit worse… my mom tested positive for Covid and is quarantined to her room. I know it is not my fault, but I feel so guilty about it… I picked the location, pushed the move – yes, she needed more supervision, more stimulation. Now, it’s less stimulation… just for 7-10 days, but still. gosh, 2023’s been a rough start!

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  9. Pat, I have been down that road many times with both my parents, my brother, my BFF and the love of my life passing away this past December. I did everything I could for them without any support from the rest of my family members. I live two provinces away from them all. My situations were very complicated. Words of advice would be to take care of yourself first which I didn’t do because I was the only one fighting for them to have decent health care. Do what feels right for you as far as visits and take some time for yourself. My situation was very different from yours and I paid a heavy price, physically, mentally and emotionally. At least you can rest knowing that your mother is receiving good care. A book that might prove to be of some help is PASSAGES IN CAREGIVING by GAIL SHEEHY.

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    1. Yvonne, thank you for your support. It’s been wonderful to hear from people who have been there that it’s OK to take time for myself in all this, to put myself first a bit more. I’ll look into Gail Sheehy’s book – I read her earlier passages books years ago! Thanks for the suggestion…you know I’m a huge reader.

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  10. Hi Pat, I can’t even imagine how difficult this situation is to navigate. I have friends who’ve dealt this kind of decline with their parents; it was quite exhausting – physically, emotionally and mentally. Please try to allow yourself some quiet time to decompress and take care of you. Sending hugs ❤

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  11. Oh, I am so sorry. We went through this with my hubby’s dad. It is so hard to not get frustrated when they insist they are right plus they won’t remember in 15 minutes anyway. I think visits might be more of checking on are they being cared for properly versus really conversations. My friend visits her sister once a week. It would make your mother sad that she is leaving you with these final memories of when she is no longer the mother she wanted to be. I personally would not want my children to see me (a conversation I need to have with them). I can totally related to the character in Still Alice who made a plan for suicide for her deteriorating memory only to forget where she had put the instructions on her computer.

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    1. I realized she was “no longer the mother I had” quite a few years ago when her cognition started to decline. My sister only recently realized it. I’ve come to terms with that part actually (I hope!). My focus now is making sure she feels comfortable, loved, and can enjoy these last years she has. I do know she was terrified of this happening to her (cognitive decline), so that is really hard for me. I can say she’s making the best of the move – trying different activities to see what she likes. I do believe it will settle into some rhythm…maybe not the one I envisioned, as I learn what her cognitive and physical decline really do allow.

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  12. Pat, my mom’s physical and mental decline prompted a move to an “assisted living” lodge setting in her home community 3.5 yrs ago. She will be 90 next month. I visited her daily for the first few weeks until she was settled in. Then the pandemic restrictions ensued. All transitions are difficult. The logistics of address changes, enacting POA, the new routine of her new residence weren’t necessarily easy but we settled in. Her dementia has progressed; she needs prompting for everything. She’s much more docile and frail than she was when she first moved. I was never the “golden child” but being the one who’s geographically close and a retired nurse, I’m the one tending to her needs. Our relationship has evolved. One day she told me that I was a good daughter, something I haven’t heard for a long time. I visit 1-2x/wk. My goal for her final years?months?weeks?days? is to provide compassionate support. Hopefully she feels safe in this setting. I have nothing but praise for the staff who help care for her. I attended monthly support meetings for caregivers and found that to be helpful awa learning about dementia which it looks like you’re doing as well. It’s not about winning; it’s about meeting them where they’re at. This is a marathon not a sprint so put your oxygen mask on first. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to care for an old person. I trust you will manage.

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    1. Thank you so much! This is exactly what I needed to hear. I’m in the settling her in mode, the move logistics, and her cognitive decline is in the moderate range. I love the term “compassionate support”… and yes, I’m going to explore the monthly caregiver support group (there is one at the facility in fact!). A marathon, meeting them where they are at… yes, exactly what I needed to hear.

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  13. Pat, my situation was very similar to yours except my mom initially lived only 20 miles from us. She started having some very mild cognitive decline – turns out she had had some minor strokes home alone and had not told any of us 5 adult kids – and decided she was ready for AL. We moved her close to us and for almost 20 months, life was good. I did visit nearly every day – or take her out to eat, errands, shopping – but she seemed very content there. She had a more devastating stroke about 2 months before she passed (at 98) and that is what lead us to realize she most likely was experiencing small strokes for a few years. If only she had told us. As for your role, that is up to you – every situation is unique. My mom was fairly needy and loved constant social contact. Thankfully, she satisfied this need with lots of phone calls and meals in the AL “restaurants” but she still expected to see me almost every day. I would say in that 20 months that I say her most days but again, this needs to be what your situation is. Because my mom’s cognitive issues were mostly related to the strokes and not dementia, there was not a consistent gradual decline but rather steps and even then, she was still for the most part, very alert and herself until the last stroke. Each case is different, you need to find what works for you. Just find peace in knowing you’ve done so much for her. Good luck.

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    1. Ruth, It’s helpful to hear that every situation is different. And I hope I ‘ll feel like whatever I do is the right thing for us. Even in just 2 weeks, I’ve come to realize she had more cognitive decline than I had known about. And I am hoping that the social life in the AL satisfies her needs a bit as well. She’s gone from a more isolated living experience to meals with others and daily activities. It’s early days, and I do expect continued cognitive decline, so I am trying to take it more “one week at a time”!

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  14. It’s a tough road, Pat. Yes, letting them “be right ” prevents the cognitive meltdown. Now, you need to focus on letting go of the things you can’t control. And NO, you do not need to visit every day because that sets up the expectation. In my family experience, random is better so that they don’t fret or think it’s 1:00 where is she and get agitated. It will probably get harder and easier in different ways as time goes along. She may forget your name or your relationship but become less frustrated with the details. Take care of yourself and exercise, and do your friend outings and blogs. Keep living your life, and don’t get sucked into being there daily. Of course, that is my daughter, and my nursing opinion all rolled into one. Take care of YOU. Bernie

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    1. Bernie, thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate the term “cognitive meltdown” – it really does explain it! I know it’s early days of her cognitive decline, so it’s helpful to hear from people who have “been there” with their insight.

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