Definition of independence
Webster’s Dictionary defines independence as “freedom, exemption, competency, neutralism…self-subsistence.”
Death of a spouse forces independence
Following the death of a spouse, a parent has many choices to contemplate. For many seniors, aloneness need not be disconcerting. A parent may be able to adapt to doing routine activities again through encouragement and help from friends and family. Following a long-term marriage, the surviving spouse must “go through the motions” of everyday life, and gradually, as time passes, life alone may become easier to bear. Unfortunately, loneliness can overcome those who shut themselves off from the “former life” they knew.
Take a “wait and see” approach
Family members may wish to help by immediately asking a surviving parent to relocate nearer to them, or to move in with them. Not so fast!
Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to grown children that it’s best if a parent doesn’t make extreme changes for a length of at least one year or more. This allows time for grieving, recovering, adapting, and moving on with life. It’s surprising how remarkably a parent may adapt to new routines like paying bills, cooking, and handling every day affairs, even though they never did so before.
Seniors who have lived in the same location for many years know their way around the community. They have close friends and neighbors. They may have a church affiliation, and belong to groups (Red Hat Society, alumni, Shriners, teams, etc.). Moving away from their neighborhood would eliminate such familiar living elements, and could trigger insecurity. A senior may not adapt well to a busy household with children, or may not live well in a colder climate. They are comfortable with their own routine and living at their own pace, so please let them carry on while they are able. However, if the existing location is depressing and reminds a loved one of loss, or if there is anxiety expressed, an eventual relocation may be best.
Discuss future scenarios
Family may want to discuss options about “some day” (when a parent can no longer live independently), but it may be years down the road. Once there are signs of difficulty over living independently (observed or hinted), this would be the proper time to discuss other living options, and to begin a dialog of gentle persuasion.
Observe physical and mental abilities
There are questions to ask, and conditions to observe. Does Mom still drive well? Is Dad handling the finances adequately? Is Mom using good judgment? Can Dad cook for himself? How is Mom’s health? Is Dad mentally alert? Can Mom take her medications as prescribed? Does the doctor recommend living assistance?
From independence to dependency
I recall an incident one afternoon at Mom’s doctor’s appointment when her doctor spoke directly with me instead of with her. At that point, Mom wanted to stay in charge of her medical decisions and was upset enough to ask that she be spoken to directly. The doctor gladly respected her wishes. However, just four years later, Mom deferred almost all of the doctor’s questions to me when her memory began to slip. I carried written notes on Mom’s tests, surgeries, medications, and conditions on 3×5″ cards. These references definitely came in handy! Be a health advocate for your elderly loved one!
Independence is very important to a senior parent. Don’t be in a rush to take it away!