When the phone call finally came, I gasped in shock.
It was a social worker from the nursing home where my mother had been on a waiting list for admission for a year and a half. The social worker said the words that I'd both yearned for and dreaded: "We have a bed for your mother. Can she move in tomorrow?"
I knew it was time. During the previous nine months, my mother had been hospitalized three times for confusion, as well as for injuries from falls. It was clear to me she was no longer safe living alone in her apartment.
For reasons of privacy and incompatibility, neither of us had wanted to live together. (Plus, the stairways in my home made her moving in near impossible.) Instead, we scraped together the funds to hire home health aides to be with her for seven hours a day.
But that still left 17 hours when disaster could and did still occur. I never stopped worrying — whether I was by her side, at work or on the basketball court. Would the aides show up? (Not always.) Would my mother fall even when an aide was present? (Yes.) Was I being a good son? (Each subsequent fall made me more doubtful.)
A bed in a facility with 24-hour supervision would ensure greater safety, but also less freedom for her and more guilt for me. Would my mother feel like I was dumping her there? Fortunately, she didn't see it that way. That night, when I offered her the choice of moving into the nursing home or staying in her apartment, she quickly opted to move.
Many family caregivers anguish over nursing home placement. Some regard it as a failure of will or effort to honor a parent's wishes to stay at home until the end. Others see it as the ultimate loving and responsible act when safety becomes paramount. Some hold both views and feel powerfully conflicted. Here are ideas for dealing with the many emotions that arise around this difficult family decision.