A Better Home

I flew home last night from Charlotte, NC. There have been less than a hand full of times I’ve ever needed to be home so badly. You see I’ve been gone all but about four days since early February. Not only did I miss two snowfalls we had in Chicago during that time but also, I missed home. It’s that simple. As much as I’ve said in other posts that home is where the heart is and though my heart traveled with me, I’ve been away from all the comforts my personal home brings me – coffee in the wee hours each morning with my David while we play Scrabble on our IPads, solitary walks in nature, my own home-cooked meals, my dog and my writing (hard to do when traveling) to name a few. Most of all I’ve missed my quiet time with David. He is absolutely positively the love of my life. As is our tradition when I return home from traveling, last night we went to our fave restaurant just a stone’s throw away from our house. Vincitori’s Italian – quaint and ever so yummy, it is my comfort place to go to when I get home. The restaurant was packed so we ate at the bar. Let me tell you, I was giddy with happiness. I kept patting David’s leg, rubbing his back and smiling at him while thinking in my head, there’s no place like home. Hallelujah, I felt finally home. Truly, home never felt better than this. And that my friends made me realize that being away from home for so long and dealing with all that went on these last few weeks gave me a new appreciation for home which in turn gave me a better home to return to.

Two other people I know have recently been gifted a better home to live in. One I learned about through a chance encounter one of the hair stylists at the salon I go to had with a new client. The other I know personally. Both of these people are now living in better homes. I know they are blessed and I know their families are as well. Let me explain…

Maurice’s gift gave someone a better home

No matter where I go I tend to be a “Chatty Cathy” and have tons of unusual stories to tell. Even at the salon I go to many of the stylists there know me and know this about me so the last time I was there getting highlights one of the stylists came over to talk. In no time she told me about the odd encounter she had the day before. A walk-in client had come in and so she cut her hair. They began a casual conversation and before long they started talking about where they both went to high school. When the stylist said where she went the woman in the chair said, “I didn’t go there but the mother of the boy that gave me his kidney did.” That remark led to more connecting the dots until oddly enough the hair stylist realized the boy she was talking about was Maurice, a 16-year-old boy that had lived with his mother above her condo years ago in Chicago. You see some guys that wanted his jacket gunned down Maurice in cold blood in front of their building on a day Maurice was excited about going to a concert that evening with his mother, the hair stylist and her son. He later died at the hospital from the gunshot wound. His mother decided to donate all his organs that could be donated. Now all these years later a woman that was a recipient of Maurice’s kidney was sitting in her chair. Talk about synchronicity! What a gift both these women received. The hair stylist got to see what Maurice had done for someone and the woman; well Maurice gave her a better home to live in while here on earth.

A better home for Chris

Chris Brami is my daughter-in-law Kathleen’s father. Well, actually he was her father as he recently passed away. He was diagnosed a few years ago with Alzheimer’s – what my own mother has so I understand it in an up close and personal way. But for a man so young, it was heart wrenching to have happen. He was in the prime of life if you ask me. Chris’s condition rapidly progressed the last few months and just this February while I was visiting he passed away. Kathleen, her mother (Susan) and her sister (Meredith) dealt with some pretty horrific stuff while he spiraled down. Finally towards the end it was apparent to them all that he needed to go home to a better place. I’ll never forget the last days of his life as I was staying with Kathleen and my son. The morning he passed will be etched in my mind forever. I awoke and walked out of my bedroom. As early as it was Kathleen and Ben were dressed and leaving. She had just gotten the call from her mother that he had passed. Kathleen said to me, “We said our goodbyes last night and left him in private. We knew he was ready to go to a better place. We gave him the space to do it and he did it in his own way. He went home to a better place.”

Strive for the best home right here and now

I think everything we experience, every person we meet can teach us valuable lessons. I remember the day the hair stylist told me her story I asked her what she learned from it all. She said, “Well, I learned the importance of donating organs. Maurice’s kidney saved someone’s life and really, donating is a simple thing to do.” And I’ll never forget the peace that came for everyone knowing Chris had gone on to a better home. Maurice’s story and Chris’s family consciously letting him go to a better place have given me much to ponder. Add to that the weeks upon weeks I have been gone from my own home and believe you me, I feel more connected to home than ever before. How about you? Is your home all you want it to be? Can you think of ways to make it better? If so, why not start now to make a change? After all, home should offer us the best sanctuary for our souls that is possible.

To being home…

Chris Brami, July 22,1955 ~ February 7,2013

Chris Brami, July 22,1955 ~ February 7,2013

Creating Comfort In An Assisted Living Facility

Many years ago while living in Northern VA, I was at a dinner party with friends.  A discussion started about the future need for more nursing homes as the baby boomers aged.  I remember one friend, Leah telling my friend Sue and me that she and her husband were considering investing in this soon to be big business industry.  I could not fathom the future need of this anywhere near the level they felt it would become.  (But of course, I was the one in college who thought computer courses were a waste of time, too.)

Leah and her husband were right.  The world of caring for the elderly has radically changed.  It is extremely difficult to not only find a good quality facility but, the wait list is often ridiculously long to secure a spot.

I learned this first hand last summer.  My mother has Alzheimer’s.  For several years we were fortunate to keep her at home.  She went from daytime care to full round the clock care (thank you Ercilia) until it just wasn’t enough.  Overnight we were faced with the need for a facility to move her to.  We got lucky- there was an opening in the facility we had previously decided that should the need arise,  was our number one choice.

So, one year ago this month my siblings and I did what I once considered the unimaginable.  We moved our mother into an Alzheimer’s Facility.  I count it as one of the most horrific decisions I have ever had to take part in making.

It turned out to be the best thing for her.

What a blessing for all of us.

She is the happiest, healthiest and safest I have seen her in a long time.  Of course, she lives in the moment.  I meant literally in the moment.  If you visit her, you can walk out the door to her room, walk back in and she will greet you as if for the first time.

My David calls it living life like in the movie “Ground Hog Day”.  Over and over, it is the same thing.  But, she is happy.

I believe she is happy because of what my siblings, spouses (what we fondly call our out-laws) and I did to create comfy cozy space for her.

Replicate what they know

We had a plan.  The day we moved her into her facility, my sister Mary Ann took her shopping.  The rest of us immediately converged on the house (having already established a “D Day plan of attack”) and began collecting the things from her house we knew she loved and would be familiar with in new surroundings.  My brother, Tommy brought a trailer and so the guys started filling it with the large items like her bed.  We even put in my Dad’s dresser- not hers as she loved looking at his ever since his passing.  We carefully and consciously thought through every single item we put on the trailer.  We wanted our mother to walk into her room and feel like she was home.

We had a time limit to getting all this done as we were having a luncheon at the facility with our mother once we got there.  We worked as if we were on a mission, each person pitching in.  Oh, and just so you know- we had not told her she was moving to a facility.  After counsel with her doctor and the staff at Richfield we decided it was best not to give her the head’s up.  She wouldn’t remember anyway.  So, when Mary Ann brought Mom to the center for lunch, it was at the lunch table that we told her this was her new home.

Wow, while writing this my eyes are filling with tears and I suddenly have a sick feeling in my stomach.  Thinking back to it brings on a flood of emotion.  I guess it always will.

You see, after our father passed away many years ago, Mom made us promise never to put her in a nursing home.  We were going back on our promise.  No child should ever have to experience this.

But, on with the story…

While we siblings were breaking the news to Mom, the out-laws were putting the final touches on her room.  What a beautiful job Laura and Becky did!  Pictures were hung, accessories were lovingly placed on her nightstand and desk, her rug was arranged on the floor and lamps were lit to give a welcoming presence.

Comfort was created.

She loved it!

A New Home

Arriving at nursing home

Arriving to her new digs

Nursing Homes are not what they used to be.  My grandmother was in one back in the early 70’s for a brief time and I remember it was like a hospital room.  Not anymore.  The medical world has begun paying attention to the importance of the aesthetics of the environment.  Patient rooms and suites are more personal and user friendly.  Afterall, many patients live in these spaces for years and years.

Richfield, the facility our Mom lives in is very much this way.  When we moved her in, the staff gave us total privacy to make Mom’s room what we wanted it to be.  My brother, Don called it her condo and so that’s what we call it still. She feels good in this new homespace and it shows!  She has a new home!

Laura, M.A. and Tommy enjoying the condo

Laura, M.A. and Tommy enjoying the condo

Favorite chair

Settled in her favorite chair, Papa’s

Don enjoying the condo

Don enjoying the condo

Helpful hints to create comfort

Here are my tips for any of you that find yourselves where my family was a year ago:

  • Think through the space you are moving your loved one to just as carefully as you have thought through your own personal homespace.  It will mean a world of difference to how they live in their space if it is comfy cozy.
  • Make your loved one’s space resemble what they are used to as much as possible.
  • Fill their space with family photos.
  • Fill their space with mementos.
  • Allow for good lighting by decorating with table lamps, etc.
  • Bring in fresh flowers and plants often.
  • Pay attention to smell as this is often a problem with the elderly.  Use natural room deodorizers such as Fresh Wave.
  • Add a wreath or some type of welcoming décor to the door that is the entrance to their homespace.
  • Take the time to decorate their space for the different holidays. (More on this later.)
  • Have a journal available for visitors to write in.  This gives you a record of who she/he has seen and also gives you things to talk about when you visit.
  • Visit often.  You being there is the best “decoration” she/he will enjoy.

Please feel free to add comments to this post if any of you have great tips as well.

Oh, and a very personal shout-out to the dear friends that visit my mother so often.  Chris, Ellen and Bill, Clara, Ercilia  and the rest of you– you make the world brighter for my Mom.  I am forever grateful!  And, Richfield you and your staff rock!

Mom/Mamaw/Ms. B

Mom/Mamaw/Ms. B. Photo credit: David Solganik

Happy living Mom…