This is one of the predictable dilemmas of aging we all wish we could avoid. We can’t. At some point we run out of aging-in-place options and a parent winds up in a place they never wanted to be, a nursing home. It is a painful transition that in most cases is irreversible. But they continue to ask us when they can go home. So how do we respond? How do we help them come to terms with this new reality?
Start with the truth. Tell them the painful truth. Tell that you have run out of options. Their health and care issues requires a new level of support. It’s not what either of you wanted, but it is the new starting point that both of you are going to have to use going forward. You wish it wasn’t so, but it is.
Start with control. Make a working list of all of the choices your parent still retains despite being in a nursing home. Can they choose their own food and when they eat? Can they choose their activities and when they leave the facility on outings? Can they choose pictures to hang, a special chair, music, blankets, and when family and friends can visit? The more ares of control you identify and orchestrate for them to manage, the easier it will be for them to come to terms with the transition.
Start with legacy. Make a working list of the people connected to your parent’s life who can “rise to the occasion” and help with the transition. This could include neighbors, co-workers, friends, clergy, and of course family members. Tell them to come ready with a story, pictures, food, and news. We all want to know our lives make a difference, but when we wind up in a nursing home, it doesn’t seem that way anymore. The more connections you mobilize to interact your parent, the easier it will be for them to come to terms with the transition.
Make ample room for tears. The losses of aging break our hearts and all of us need room to grieve openly. It helps us come to terms with the things we cannot change; it makes room for courage and compassion. Let your parent have his or her feelings and let them see yours. It will provide both of you comfort and deepen your partnership for what lies ahead.