After my dad died, his sister was left alone with me and my siblings. We were her only family. She had lost her husband and her daughter years ago and with her only brother gone, she had now two nieces and three nephews left to accompany her for the rest of her life. My aunt was an independent lady and very protective of her privacy. Her home was her castle, where she had lived for more than 50 years. To her it was the place where she would live until the day she would die. She was determined not to go anywhere, but after her first heart attack that was about to change. Home care nurses started to take care of her in the morning and evening, invading her private space. A couple of smaller attacks called for more care and my aunt had to battle, allowing more strangers in her house taking over control. But still she assured me and my siblings, she wasn’t going anywhere.
Our aunt was developing into a growing concern. Police had to phone us out of bed several times. My aunt would fall during the night, setting of her personal alarm system. We all lived at least 100 km away, so the first ones to attend would be the police. We had organized home care for the night, but as soon as my aunt felt better, she would send them away. If we mentioned a care facility, she would ignore it and start a different conversation. Then one day out of the blue she surprised me by expressing the desire to live closer to us. She suggested I should look into a place to live in the town she grew up in and where most of us lived. Suddenly she seemed into a hurry to move. It wasn’t easy to find her a spot in a care facility close to where we lived, but eventually we did.
I never forget how small and lost she looked at her first day. It was heartbreaking to see, and I had to be hard on myself not to drive her back to the house she loved so much. We had kept her house and had left everything in place, she only moved with a suitcase filled with clothing. This at least made her feel she could return home if she wanted to, although she knew that wasn’t going to happen. After some time when she got settled, she and I found a moment to talk about what had set off this change in her determination never to leave her home. Although trying to keep control in her own home, my aunt had come to realize she was starting to depend more and more on others. Although she wanted to be strong and take care of herself, she had realized that being strong, was being stubborn. More and more she had felt unsafe. But what struck me the most, was the fact that she would rather leave her house, than live in it with strangers taking care of her, taking over all the things she had been doing herself for so many years, making her feel like the stranger in her own home.
This enormous change in her life had made her realize she had come to the end of her journey and she had decided it would be easier to let go. Having her family nearby and spend more time with them had become more important to her. She had become aware of our worries and that didn’t feel good. She also wanted to feel safe during the day and the night. She missed her home and her privacy, but her first weeks in the care facility had proven to provide her with what she needed now. Even at the end of your life, she said, you cannot have it all, so she had settled for what was best for her and for us in this stage of her life. She didn’t like it, but she felt good about it and had accepted the change. My aunt spent her last four months in a home away from home, she felt safe and she felt loved and she was not alone. She died peacefully.
For sure it is easier to accompany an aunt in these life changes. I cannot imagine what it would mean to a spouse. In most situations it means separation and letting go takes on a whole new meaning, since now there are two who need to let go. One partner will need more care to be kept safe and comfortable, and the other will feel helpless and guilty, no longer being the one able to provide what the other need. Maybe it helps to know what my aunt tried to explain to me. When the familiarity of what you have always known needsto change, your home becomes a different place and it can be too painful of an experience. Sometimes it is easier to embrace an even bigger change to focus on theprecious time that is left. It helps to turn that time into quality time, where others assist with care and create a safe environment, while partners, parents and children, friends and family can fill the days with love and presence.
If you would like to know more about Ty Watson House and the services offered by the Alberni Valley Hospice Society, please call us at 250-723-4478.