One of the cruel things about getting older is that the inevitable role reversal can manifest itself at any moment. During my recent trip to Nova Scotia, a Steak and Stein dinner roll stuck its head out from the napkin my mother had carefully wrapped it in and muttered, it is your turn, Amanda. (Ed: see an older post Mommified for clarification about my obscure reference to a dinner roll).
When is it Ever a Good Time?
Like many people in my position, and particularly if you live far from home, it can be a delicate matter to know when and how to broach the subject of becoming much more involved in someone else’s life, particularly your parents. Considering, however, that I left home at 18 and for all these years we have led completely separate lives, it is as uncomfortable for them as it is for me to realize that it is time for these conversations to take place.
Overall, the parental unit is doing well for 80 (mom) and 89 (dad). They are not as challenged with extreme health issues as many other seniors (although my mother’s osteoporosis is very bad and my father’s memory is deteriorating rapidly). Plus they still have each other. They have been in the same house for more than 23 years, have good neighbours and concerned friends, still travel (they went on a cruise to Antarctica at Christmas!), and get out and about regularly, even though my dad is still driving (ARRRGGGHHH, even though I understand).
During my visit a variety of little things happened and I realized it is time for me to step up and get involved. Since I love to research, I decided to think about the kinds of options that can help them achieve a better quality of life. For example, one step is to sell the house and move somewhere more manageable and closer to amenities. My mom is open and keen but my dad will take some convincing. I found myself gently (and I hope, convincingly) talking about the benefits of not having to look after a large house with stairs and a garden:
I know you are always worried about money. Wouldn’t it be nice if you don’t have to pay someone to mow the lawn or remove snow? And living in a smaller space, you can pay much less to heat an apartment! And what about being closer to shops where you can take a walk (instead of driving) to get those chocolate biscuits you love… Oh! And you don’t have to deal with house repairs when you rent, that is up to the landlord!
Then the awkward, necessary, strange, conversations ensue during this role reversal challenge:
Mom, it might be a better idea if Dad does not drive alone anymore as he needs you to navigate. If you were closer to the shops…
Mom, everyone is very worried about you falling down those front steps…
Dad, make sure you have your cell phone and it is always on when you are driving, ok?
Dad, I think you know you are getting more and more confused every day.
Ummm, I hate to bring it up, but what if Dad dies first? What will you do then?
Dad, we have never talked about this, but what kind of funeral would you like to have?
It might be wise for us to give me some authority to help you with these sorts of things from Sweden. What do you think?
When Separate Lives Must Converge…Even a Little
The tricky part comes next. How to help and be involved without any real authority living thousands of kilometers away. My half-brother and I will work as a team (he will be our dad’s advocate) but he also lives outside of Canada. I have started the ball rolling with my mom, but understandably she is reluctant to talk about it or be proactive while my dad is still mostly, but not completely, functional. I don’t want to be caught out if we get that phone call that says they have been in a serious car accident, or that my mom has fallen again and broken another bone, or that they are being taken advantage by a con artist…or that my dad gets lost and cannot find his way home. I also feel a great responsibility to all the kind neighbours and friends who are helping out as much as they can but it is not their responsibility just because I am so far away.
As always, I have started the research so now will share what I have collected to make it available for other people. It is also useful for me. At the moment is it, of course, focussed on being a senior in Nova Scotia, but I expect that I will expand on this research over time. I may also split this out from this post at a later date, but for now here are some key websites I have used to start getting a better picture of what is available for my parents and what to start thinking about.
General Information (Nova Scotia, Canada)
- Nova Scotia Department of Seniors - the main government website
- Positive Aging Directory (lot of useful information for Nova Scotians, as well as a PDF you can download)
- Access to Travel (Canadian government site, with links to each province’s resources). Includes information on transportation between Canadian cities by air, rail, ferry and intercity bus; local transportation; accessibility of airport terminals; provincial tourism; service standards, and much more.
- Access to Travel – Nova Scotia links to accessible transportation services.
- Cooperative Housing Federation (CHF) of Canada
- Nova Scotia branch of the CHF
- CHF Seniors Resources page
- Housing Options for Seniors in Nova Scotia (Senioropolis) - a summary of what is also covered in the Positive Aging Directory
- Seniors Housing Related Links (on the Atlantic Seniors Housing Alliance website)
- Community Links – Aging Well Together (a provincial organization that promotes age friendly communities and quality of life for Nova Scotia seniors through community development and volunteer action)
Nova Scotia Seniors Relocation/Moving/Organizing Consultants
I am not endorsing these companies, simply providing the links that were already included in the Positive Aging Directory. (I also think it is a great idea for a business in your own community!).