Several years ago I wrote about the joys of empty nesting. Less than a year after I wrote that article, the empty nest was interrupted. Had to be done. People’s welfare was at stake. Nine months ago, our nest emptied out again. And just this week we once again gave birth to that baby called empty nest no longer. Because family always comes home. Because life is full of lies we tell ourselves, like someday you will have an empty nest and will be free to travel the world in a camper and have the health to do so!
Just this week, Dave and I moved his mom into our home. We fixed up the front room–formerly known as Claudette’s study–with paint, a new rug and emptied out closets, and we moved her in. She’s 84 now, but still able to motivate on her own, though wobbly at times. She gets confused and forgets what was just said and asks the same question multiple times. She was living in her own home, but because she was getting feeble, she quit driving and she just got lonely. Her loneliness is as much on her as it is on anybody. She doesn’t really like a lot of people, and doesn’t return their offers of friendship, so she didn’t have her “gang” of folks to hang out with. Except family. Her kids tried to keep up with her as much as possible; and the grand kids called and talked to her on occasion, as well.
Her confusion is what began to cause us some concern. Before she quit driving, she had a couple of bump-ups with her car. She thought the car was in reverse, and drove forward into a retaining wall (thank heavens it was there!) and another time into a fence and scratched up her bumper. She began calling her kids constantly, asking the same question again and again, and she cried a whole lot. It was concerning.
It was never Reba’s intention to move in with one of her children. She always said, “Just put me in a nursing home. I don’t want to live with my kids.” Yet, when Dave posed the question to her about coming to live with us, she took a few days to think about it and then responded with a gracious, “Yes.” So here we are. Five days into our new living arrangements. Too early to tell how it will all work out; too early to tell if she will need a sitter during the day while we work; too early to tell a lot of things. But I believe it was the right thing to do. That’s not to say that someday down the road, we won’t need to do something different. Her health will dictate a lot of that. We’re taking it one step at a time.
Many years ago, it was common practice that families lived together in multi-generational homes. That was just how things worked. Senior family members stayed with their children until their deaths. Many times, the younger kids stayed on even after getting married, so they could work and save and eventually buy a little place; or they simply added on to the family home and built themselves a little space of their own. It was what it was, and it seems to have worked. Unfortunately, because of the world in which we live, family dynamics have changed and what we “want” to do is sometimes overshadowed by what we “must” do.
The day may come when it’s not safe for Reba to be here by herself. Then we will have to examine all our options and figure out what’s best for her. Nursing homes are not bad things. People are not bad people for placing elderly family members in them. We all have to do what is best for our family dynamics. No guilt trips. Just doing what’s right for everyone involved. For now, it’s with us. In the future, who knows?