Never say Never

Never say never . . . . . . blog entry for 11.04.14

I am widowed and have lived alone for more than 20 years; I gratefully celebrated another birthday this year. However, I developed some significant health problems this year, also. Over several months I underwent diagnostic tests and monitoring for a heart rhythm problem. Whereas I was assured that my heart is structurally sound, and this was “only” a problem with electrical conduction, I felt very vulnerable living alone in an apartment. You see, the cat doesn't know how to dial 9-1-1.

Since I had my pacemaker implanted last month, I am feeling ever so much better. With some time and effort, I expect to regain my strength and stamina. This experience served as a wake-up call for me to consider how I might plan my living arrangements for the long haul, far into the future, taking into account the inevitable effects of aging. It's difficult to consider making changes when one is in the midst of an illness; decision-making is often focused on short-term health care matters. So now with a healthy heart and an alert mind, sitting at the kitchen table (instead of in the heart hospital), there is an opportunity to consider what the future might look like.

There was a supplement to the Tribune recently titled “The Good Life.” It featured the many options and interests of the population of seniors, including the Baby-Boomers entering this age group in great numbers. There is a wide range of activities available, along with housing options appropriate for those who are very active and healthy, as well as those currently needing assistance with skills of living.

Experts on the trends and needs of the aging population remind us that the hallmarks of healthy seniors are diet, exercise, adequate sleep ---- and community. Yes, we are social beings, and isolation can lead to depression and diminishment in quality of life, which in turn makes us prone to diseases and disorders of age.

Some decades ago, onset of illness among the elderly often resulted in nursing home placement, which was the only choice at that time. And that was the final move; people stayed in a nursing home for years and years. I have heard many people say that they made their spouse and/or adult children promise them that they would never have to go into 'a home.' That is understandable, but not realistic about those health matters over which we have no control.

Recognizing that there is a wide variation in the needs of seniors, there have developed many types of living situations, and means of healthcare, that take into account alternatives to skilled nursing care. No longer is admission to a skilled nursing facility the final residence of an individual; more likely in today's world of healthcare, skilled care is for rehabilitation from an acute illness with the goal of returning the individual to independent living---or independent living with some home health care services, or assisted living with or without community dining. Each level of care typically includes social activities, transportation to medical appointments, some types of therapy. In addition to the active lifestyle in a community of people of similar age, there is staff available when needed --- and when the cat cannot dial 9-1-1.

Many of us struggle to even think of “cleaning out the house,” with the decades of memories and accumulation of possessions, some of them treasured collections. Just the thought of such a move is overwhelming because of the magnitude of the task. The more common approach to this is to go through and sort everything we have, wall-to-wall, in every drawer and box. It's sometimes agonizing to part with our 'stuff.' We feel the need to read every note or newspaper clipping before discarding, and opening each drawer brings memories to mind---and so we linger over this task until it never gets done.

Often our children, grandchildren, or the doctor remind us that time is running out before some action must take place. Let me suggest an approach that you may not have considered.

It is emotionally difficult, and certainly challenging, to consider moving from our home to a new arrangement. Let me propose a 3-step process: identify the next place that you will call home; identify the furnishings that must come along; and after the move, that's the time to sort and distribute what things need to find a new owner.

1) There are many housing guides to the Twin Cities; the supplement to the Tribune in October called “The Good Life,” is one. Review the choices and services that are most appropriate for you, with a realistic view of potential services and benefits for future needs. Review locations, costs, services and select a number of them to visit. Review your financial situation, discuss with a financial advisor, an attorney, a family member, a trusted friend. Take someone with you when you visit these places; have a notebook along to document advantages and drawbacks of each housing option. This part of the process takes time; allow for you to imagine realistically what it will be like to live somewhere different. Try to keep an open mind during this process to lessen the emotional strain of such decisions.

2) Once the decision is made and the move-in date is determined, sketch the floor plan with room measurements, and list the priorities of furnishings that must go to the new place. The obvious ones include table, chairs, bed, dresser, sofa, lamps, clothing. You may or may not want/need to take kitchen things with you, depending on the type of facility you choose. Carefully consider whether you need several sets of dishes, dozens of pots and pans, etc. I cheerfully donated my roaster for the holiday turkey to one of my daughters! The family holiday traditions need not change entirely, but some modifications are common. Moving day is exciting and stressful, and exhausting. Enlist help, plan ahead for getting settled in your home. See point #3 below.

3) In my family, I have experience with and without professional help in this major life transition. Let me say that it's far easier to have professional help. They can be more efficient than your family members, because they can be more objective without emotional ties and expectations. There are professional moving services who focus on these life transitions; their staff can help in this process with patience, kindness, respect, and efficiency, in your timeline. They assist to sort your things with empathy; to pack your things with care; and to distribute with efficiency and regard for your preference. You may choose to distribute to your children and grandchildren with assistance in making that happen. These services will host an estate sale on your behalf, or use consignment or eBay to locate appreciative new owners of your treasures. These professionals will wrap and pack your things, contract and supervise movers, unpack and settle your things in your new home, hang pictures and towel bars, hook up television and computer, put the linens on the bed and the toothbrush in the glass by the sink --- all in the same day. I have personal family members who have used two such local services, and are very satisfied with and; there are other move services available as well, listed in yellow pages and other directories.

Never say never, that this time of your life will come. Life has a way of surprising us, even in the best-laid plans. Consider the options before you, and ask family members or trusted friends their thoughts and suggestions on these concerns. Ask for assistance when you are unable to find your own answers. Perhaps a transition will become a delightful adventure in your life's journey.


Dorothy Ellerbroek

The professional specialty of parish nursing combines nursing care and health ministry. In broad terms, my goals are to serve this faith community by fostering optimal health of body, mind, and spirit. I must admit that the best thing I do is to listen to others. My work involves visiting those who are homebound or ill; together with that, I may offer health counseling and education, referrals or resources for healthcare needs for all ages. The parish nurse works with volunteers, including the Health Ministry team, to bring programs and services to the congregation. To set up a time to meet with our parish nurse, email Dorothy or call the church office at (612) 927-8849.