They say that Home is where the Heart is. I cannot imagine the feeling of having your life was turned upside down all at once. In the beginning of this year, Papa not only lost his wife of almost 59 years, he left his comfort zone: his home, his friends, many of his belongings and much of his independence. He faithfully trusted us knowing this was the right decision and left the warm climate of Arizona, to move across country to a much cooler locale. I wanted to make sure he understood that Virginia typically has a mild climate, and caught myself repeating this information to him multiple times a day as the temperatures across the US were plunging. While Virginia’s winter temperatures usually average in the mid 40’s and sometimes much warmer, the past several weeks have been hovering in the single digits with several episodes of snow. It is not quite the mild climate I had promised him, but he is acclimating quite well.
Papa did not have the luxury of waiting and grieving privately before moving to a new location. He needed the immediate support of having people assist him in making difficult life decisions. He was not sure where to begin with funeral arrangements. He has never been hands on with family finances, as he says, I made the money and Mom spent it. He isn’t sure what his income is, what bills they had or how or when to pay them. He is not aware of any specifics in his health insurance, or how to reorder his medications or if they have life insurance. He is not concerned with expiration dates on perishables, and he was not sure who to rely on locally to help him. Papa is a polite and friendly person who talks to everyone; he doesn’t like to say no or to think he would ever disappoint another person thus making him an easy target to be taken advantage of. Sadly, with his increasing memory loss he may never completely understand some of the basic financial tasks we take for granted, but what he does know and understand completely is that he has a family that would do anything for him. We will explain things to him so he can be a part in the many decisions that affect him, and we will do our best to teach him to say no thanks to anyone who knocks on the door to make sure he is not the victim of another scam. Most importantly he knows that we will open up our home and make it his home. His family will take care of him.
Where do we begin? How do we turn our empty nest into a warm and comfortable environment for our grieving father? How do we make sure that Papa feels that OUR home is HIS home; that being here is permanent, he is not a guest. This is easier said than done, but we are doing our best. We started with the basics. He has unpacked his belongings and we have displayed some of his personal knickknacks or photos not only in his room but throughout the house. We have gotten him a new chair and put Nana’s favorite side table next to it. We made sure that we brought his favorite drinking glass and coffee mug. We have cleared out spaces in the kitchen for his medications or his coffee or his favorite foods, and in the bathroom for his personal effects. We have made sure he has his puzzle books and pens in several places throughout the house. We have checked out several global markets to make sure we can find his special coffee when he runs out. These things were easy.
What we are working on is making sure he has a purpose, that he feels needed. We are including him in helping to make dinner each evening, and spending extended time sitting and talking after our meal is over. We have taken him to church. We have taken him for walks, even in the cold, to show him the neighborhood and introduced our neighbors. We are showing him our routines for laundry or other household chores. We sit with him and watch TV shows we are not interested in, and try to encourage a few more upbeat examples. I have a “date night” with him once a week where the two of us go to dinner. But we are still working on this. We are open to any suggestions you may have on how we can help him make Papa’s transition to his new home come easy.
Each day I see gentle reminders in his behavior that shows he is more comfortable and we are hoping that with consistency he will truly feel at home. And then there are times as we are sitting in the family room and watching TV that I see him gently caress Nana’s side table and I realize that his first home will always be where his heart is, with Nana.