The Walls Talk Christmas!

I don’t know what I expected when I moved into this combination living establishment. I think I was so stressed at the time that my only expectations were of being able to take a breath occasionally. I found so much more.

This is our first Christmas here. This week the staff and the residents pulled out the decorations and our hallways and community rooms became more festive.

I told my grandson one night that us oldsters were going to party. He laughed. Apparently there is an expectation that old people, especially those who have physical challenges do not party. Outsiders expect people in old folks homes, like they used to call them, to sit around and be silent. That happens, but what I want y’all to know, as my Alabama friend here would put it, the people you meet in Senior living and nursing homes, are still the same on the inside. They laugh, they cry, they tell jokes and pull pranks and yes… they like to party and occasionally there is alcohol involved.

Festive here does not involve just the walls being adorned with festive holiday creations, but also wheelchairs, walkers and canes. It’s not unusual to hear us break out in song at the supper table, yes, I’m still a supper gal. One of our friends brings his iPad, cranks it up and plays Christmas music to accompany our supper. Our 94 year old resident that I will call J. is in a wheelchair and wears her Christmas tree hat on her head, reminding us that you are never too old to celebrate and…she doesn’t mind shaking it up with some dance moves. You can dance in a wheelchair.

The people living within these walls are resilient and they make the most of their lives. Some are here by choice, meaning they were able to choose this living facility. Others are here because of Cadi Waiver or Elderly Waiver and when circumstances such as an accident or a stroke etc. deemed they needed help with living, they had no choice as to their place of residence. Because of openings and fewer facilities taking this payment, they may be sent many hours away from their home base isolated from family and friends. We have those folks here and they they make the best of their circumstances.

Take the time to visit people you know, and those who are new to you, and you’ll hear some fascinating stories of lives well lived, having experienced all scenarios and emotions evoked by life circumstances.

The Christmas season is tough. Underneath the smiles and greetings you might miss the sadness that’s hidden because of having to leave their homes, losing those they loved, and missing their families. Families visit but it’s different. A few hours here and there before loved ones hustle back into the world, a world residents used to be a part of. Memories surface in minds of what was and silent tears are held in the heart. The best Christmas gifts are presence of family all year long.

Yet each morning no matter how sad their heart is, those that live here get up and go out into their new world trying to make the best of each day. A world where their care depends on others for many basic needs. A world where there is a sameness, but that sameness is changed by attitudes.

Each day a senior gets up knowing a friend might have gained their wings during the night. The sound of an ambulance invokes prayers because they know one of their own is in trouble. I have learned from each person I meet acceptance, caring, laughter and joy, and death. It’s all here.

Stop in and visit. Let this great older generation tell you about their resilience. It’s not a sad place unless you let it be in your mind. Take a chance, you might meet some of the best friends you could have in your life.

Don’t Get Me Wrong

One question people confront me with is: “If you couldn’t afford the cost of Senior living, why did you move there? You knew you couldn’t afford it.” I whine about the cost of Senior living facilities frequently. I am not asking for pity, I just don’t understand why the cost of independent living in a senior facility that is paired with assisted living and memory care costs so much. And so I whine. The reason we moved to an independent/ assisted living complex when we knew money would be depleted quickly was because my husband has memory loss. I was taking care of him and knew it couldn’t continue the way it was. After all, I’m no spring chicken either. We visited many alternatives for independent/assisted living. Some facilities need a resident to be private pay for a year before they can go on elderly waiver or cadi waiver. We knew our money would not last that long. Some facilities take Elderly Waiver immediately. The one common thread we found throughout our search was that if you needed to go into memory care the people that live in the established independent/assisted living community are chosen first. Openings are limited in memory care and it was a priority that we be accepted somewhere so when the time came for memory care for my husband he would have a place. We knew eventually when more help was needed, I would stay independent on the money allotted me as a spouse to live, as I have no need for assisted living, making me ineligible for county help. Which in my eyes is good. Life on assistance isn’t the piece of cake many think it is when they are complaining about those being helped by the government. The criteria is stringent and if you are on Elderly waiver the spend down happens first. After paying your rent a resident is left with around 100 dollars for any essentials not covered that they might need. The people we know here that are on these waivers literally have limited money for anything but the basics. They are on their own for clothes, any food they want outside of the three meals a day, toiletries, toilet paper etc. They have no money for a car or gas even if they can still drive. They are not able to afford a meal away in a restaurant or gifts for family. Essentially their needs are taken care of, however those who are here of sound mind, but have issues where they need help, literally have no life other then here. They can’t afford extras. Some do not even have money for furniture for their rooms, and not all have families to help them out. The first person cost and the second person cost private pay does not include meals or a garage. Those are extras. We are at the decision making process now. I will have to move out to an apartment I can afford and my husband will go to a memory care, sooner then he would if I could afford to stay. The tiered structure that is charged for an apartment for a couple puts the basic cost of rent on the first person, that would be me. The second person, my husband, gets a reduced rate but we pay that too even though he is on elderly waiver. That cost gets added to the first person rent. And no, it would not have made any difference if he was first or second. When someone goes on waiver they automatically get switched to second person. The cost he is charged is regulated by the county and the facility cannot charge more. The first person holds the burden of the basic rent. The rents for a one-bedroom for first person ranges around $2800. Usually second person gets charged a starting rate that varies but is usually around $350. Once services with the county start that second person rate gets raised to around $1000. The cost would be different for private pay that goes into assisted, depending on services. If it is a single person that rate would be what the first person rate is as an independent resident. There are also community fees when you move in that are non refundable. Ours was $1500 dollars. All these costs vary in different facilities so what I state are not the case for everyone in every facility. In some cases these costs can be negotiated. Sounds complicated doesn’t it. It is. It is also hard to figure out. One of the first things we should have done and we did, but didn’t ask the right questions because we didn’t know the right questions to ask, was to call Senior Linkage Line. At the beginning of a search for senior housing someone should call Senior Linkage Line, especially in Minnesota, I am not sure about other states but you should inquire and look for similar services. Residents going into a facility need a code from them. The Senior Linkage Line has people to help seniors make the decision as to the type of care needed and where to find it. They also can guide people on resources to pay for senior care. It is an excellent organization. We were guided to this organization by ads we saw on social media. We were told to call by others but…and there’s where it hangs but… we did not know we would need the code. We did not know they could actually guide us through the process. We asked for information but did not know we could actually use the line to help us make our decision by gathering more information. We didn’t find out we needed that code until after we signed the contract. In fact, when I called the linkage line for our code they said, “This is after the fact. You needed this code before you signed a contract so we could make sure this was the best fit for you.” Who knew? We didn’t. To be fair, maybe somewhere along the line we might have been told this, but when you are in a situation where you don’t want to leave your home, and you are tired and stressed, your thinking processes are affected. In hindsight we should have used this service and we should have had a lawyer look over the contract. Our kids helped us a great deal and as knowledgeable as they are, they are not experts in elderly living contracts, so many problems occurred after we signed our contract because we did not fully understand it. Now you know a little of our story. On a side note, we moved my husband into memory care this week and that is an entirely different story to save for later. Senior Linkage Line is a starting point. Visit the site. Take your time. There is so much information on the website. Soon I will have a page set up with this link and others. Call them. The more informed you are the better decision you will make and always involve your family.

Death, A Part of Life?

Diamond Art done by Barb

We’ve all heard these words when someone has died and we are mourning them. At least one person remarks “Death is a part of life and we have to accept it.” We know that to be true and mourning doesn’t mean we don’t accept it but…it doesn’t make it any easier.

When you get to be the age I am or older, those words become harder to hear, and harder to ignore. In the past weeks I’ve lost close friends outside of this facility. Plus we, meaning the other residents and myself included, have lost people we care about here. Why shouldn’t we expect it? Most of us are over sixty-five. Many have physical problems that are a challenge every single day, yet we are always surprised when a person leaves us for their heavenly home.

For those that don’t live in a senior facility it’s hard to understand. When you reach a certain age it is a reality that the circle of friends you’ve had for years gets smaller. In an assisted living home it’s a reality that almost weekly someone you care about will pass. The noise of a siren alerts everyone in the building someone is in trouble. If we see them leave we pray they will be able to return to us. The person down the hall or on another floor is now a part of your family and we grieve when they leave us.

As our families are living out in the world going to work, activities, and living their lives, we have formed a new family, the family we now have is those we live with. We become close because we spend more time with them and the staff then our own families.

We share meals at the table day after day. Whether someone sits at our table, we still chat with each other across the room. Our days consist of playing and talking with the same people for hours, much like we did with our own families when they were home.

I think the outside world when they look inside these walls, sees the wheelchairs, crippled bodies and failing minds. The outside world visits for a few hours and sees the surface but they don’t see the living, the inspirational living, they see the dying. .

If people would have been peeking in the dining room window last night they might have been surprised. At our table you would have seen ten people, some in wheelchairs, others with walkers and others more able, enjoying a meal. You would have seen some laughing so loud they were almost crying. You would have seen us joining hands and praying for another resident who is having surgery. You would have seen us breaking bread and heard us in song, singing whatever tune came to mind. You would have seen a family put together by circumstances and attitudes of courage and strength and caring for each other. Attitudes which surpass any physical and mental ailment which any of them are experiencing.

Back to death. We lost one of our own last week. It was expected yet it wasn’t. We knew hospice had been called, but our friend at the end of last week was still vibrant, teasing, smiling and active. She was preparing. A gifted, talented person she had passed on her artwork to others. This person made arrangements for her possessions to be given to others in the building who could use her items and had not been able to afford them on her own. She told me she was ready and yet…we had no idea how close we were to losing her. So it was a shock when we found out she passed.

Her friendship was a gift to all of us. She was so much more then the disabilities she had. It was her attitude, her smile and her determination that she left with us. We had a party the day she died, we didn’t cancel but remembered her and knew she would have been right there dancing with us, and yes you heard me right…dancing. More about that in another post. But we could dance as we mourned because though unspoken we all do know death is a part of life and her legacy left us knowing we need to live first.

It’s another view from inside these walls that I didn’t expect. Lively activity, inspirational conversations and tugs on my heart that I didn’t expect. So often we make assumptions when we see someone. If they are bent over and in a wheelchair that person may go unseen because society has given us the impression that the elderly and frail sit in that wheelchair day after day and have nothing left to contribute. Don’t count them out. Take the time to visit and talk and you might be surprised at what you find.

Another resident, newer than us to this facility and younger than most of us remarked at dinner that those had been their thoughts when they found they had to live here, because of the help they now needed. “I was wrong. I am home. This is now home.”

Inside these walls, death is a part of life. But it’s the life that happens first that will amaze you. Visit inside the walls. Throw your expectations away. Take off your blindfold and see beyond the bodies. Look into the eyes of the most beautiful souls you will ever meet.

Aging is Aging Me

Photo by Matthias Zomer on

My husband and I live in an Independent Living/Assisted Living Retirement home. It isn’t by choice…in a way it is because we are here, but I didn’t think at this point in my life this is where I would reside. My husband has memory loss. I could not take care of him at home or take care of our home and yard and when the snow blanketed our world I knew shoveling wasn’t for me.

When someone made us an offer on our home our children encouraged us to take it and move closer to them. We did a lot of research on the best way to proceed. Selling our home of thirty years was hard and money was a worry. We’d have enough for a short time. Options for seniors living situations were and are very expensive.

We’ve been at this residence since May. We started with an apartment in Indendent Living and in the last few months my husband has started assisted living services with help in medication delivery and more. I didn’t realize how tired I was until these services started. They may seem small, but to someone who has been responsible for all these things the last few years even a minor change is huge. We still live in the same apartment which is one of the models available in some assisted livings. One spouse can be independent and one can avail themselves of services. Our two shysters, cats, Boris and Natasha, also live with us.

Over the years we’ve had mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers in different types of care and in different places. I am here to tell you it is a different view when you actually are an able person living with someone that has difficulties in a multi-facted senior living home.

That is the purpose for this blog. I will try to be extremely honest without tearing down. I am learning new facts every day. I am seeing the advantages and pitfalls. This is our journey which may be very different from another individual. I hope to provide information along with sharing feelings during this journey. Most of all I want to let people know I am not an expert, just someone trying to navigate all the things no one told us before we moved in.

Join us on our journey. Share yours with us in a respectful way.

Let the journey begin.

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