I knew it!!! I've been telling my grown-up siblings for months that the key to keeping our recently-widowed mother living fully is to keep her connected to the community of people who live in her senior care home. It's not about yanking her away and bringing her to our houses to curl up with a good book while we swirl around her like tornadoes going on with our busy lives.
She needs other seniors. She needs them like a lifeline. So thrilled was I when in the aisles of Barnes & Noble I plucked out the proof. Having regular social contacts with friends and loved ones is the key for senior survival, according to a U.S. News & World Report article on health habits that help you live to 100. It confirmed what I have been trying to convince my siblings and my mom for months.
According to the article, seniors staying connected helps them avoid depression, which can lead to premature death, something that's particularly prevalent in elderly widows and widowers. Some psychologists even think that one of the biggest benefits elderly folks get from exercise the strong social interactions that come from walking with a buddy or taking a group exercise class. Having a daily connection with a close friend or family member gives older folks the added benefit of having someone watch their back.
And so be it. Admittedly, I am the first one of the sibling post our dad's death that wants to rush over, grab my mother up and remove her from the place she and my father shared for the last 10 years at the elder home care center. I know it makes her cry to be alone there. But, I also know that it is there, when she steps out her door, that a sea of others who have paved the painful widow trail before her, greet her, wrap their compassion around her shoulders and allow her to move through her sadness and loss. Staying connected to them helps her in a way me whisking her off to the crazy busyness of my life as single mom of three, couldn't possibly do.
Now, armed with the article, I am ready for the day later this week, when my mom arrives home from a three-week visit to my sister's across the country. I will pick her up at the airport, drive her home with a day or two of frozen meals and a new hanging planter for her front porch, and then (reluctantly and with tears in my eyes and guilt in my heart) leave for a day or two so that she can re-connect with the seniors who are there to care, and keep her carrying on. Sometimes, I realize it is more about how I feel, instead of what she needs and she feels, that drives our sibling crusade to keep our mom close to our sides and "busy." We are the ones who need to disconnect a little, with compassion and love.
Have you ever struggled with how much time you should be spending with your elderly parent? If it is okay to not be present 24/7? And how did you let go? Please post a comment and don't forget to sign up for our RSS Feed.