Minding our Elders: Cruel remarks follow plan to move husband into a nursing home
Dear Carol: My dad had a massive stroke five years ago when he was 78, and Mom, who's the same age, is caring for him at home. Mom's finally realizing that she can't keep this up because her health is declining. I live 500 miles away so I can only help so much. Mom's tried hiring in-home care, but that hasn't worked out consistently, so Dad's on a list for a nearby nursing home. Having to make this move is heartbreaking for Mom but she knows that it needs to be done. The problem is Dad's sister, who is also Mom's friend. She's been laying guilt on Mom saying that Mom's not honoring her marriage vows if she moves Dad. This woman has been a widow for 30 years and her husband died suddenly of a heart attack. She has no idea about what Mom's been through. Mom's moving ahead with the plan, but my aunt's bitter words are painful for her. Mom reads your column. Could you give us both some support? — TM
Dear TM: I'm sorry that after going through so much your mom's so-called friend can't see that this as a necessary move, not only for your mom but for your dad.
This woman is being unbelievably cruel to your mom. If she weren't your dad's sister, I'd suggest severing this flawed friendship. Your mom must continue to move forward with her plans. She'll have to ignore your aunt's comments on this issue while, if possible, maintaining some civility toward the woman since she's your dad's sister. The sister is likely experiencing grief over this change, too. That doesn't make it acceptable that she is treating your mother in this way, but sometimes keeping an open mind about where others are emotionally can be helpful to all.
Sadly, I've heard similar stories from other caregivers and the criticism isn't always from older people. Looking in from the outside seems to give some people the idea that they can fittingly judge any caregiving situation, which is entirely false.
Yes, your parents vowed to care for one another in sickness and in health. That's doesn't mean that hiring help with that care is wrong. Indeed, as is the case with your parents, this kind of help often includes a nursing home, and in many cases that change can be better for both the caregiver and the care receiver. With this change, your mom can return to her role as your dad's wife. She can provide comfort and companionship without the demands of providing constant care, and she can take better care of herself which will also benefit your dad.
Support your mom by encouraging her to ignore your aunt's remarks. Once your mom meets other spouses at the nursing home she'll have the support of those who understand.
Help with your dad's transfer to the nursing home if you can be there, and talk with your mom often to see how she's doing.