Grandma Ruth celebrated her 97th birthday on May 21st, 2015. Until mid-April, she lived independently in an apartment complex. Worry for her safety was constant. Everyone knew the day was looming, and no one looked forward to it. She'd made it clear that if she were forced into a retirement home, she would rather die, and she would never forgive. Never. After the initial shock of the eviction notice due to safety reasons, it was a relief for my mom that the decision had been taken out of her hands. Initially, Grandma took the news well. It was no one's fault. And then she moved into her new home. ‘Upset’ is an understatement, and she took it out on those she loved most. Now she admits that she likes being taken care of.
I phoned her to wish her Happy 4th of July. She reminisced about her siblings and about the dogs she'd owned and loved. If she can't think of a word, she fills in with whatever makes sense. She told me about flying to Miami to pick up a dog. Her sister, Rosemary, met her "at the, um, plane station". I knew what she meant. Grandma is still feisty and has her moments, but she's settled in and has accepted her new life as best she can. She goes to church most Sundays with her much loved granddaughter and is picked up to attend family celebrations. Grandma Ruth has a lot to look forward to.
What is it like to no longer have power over your life? The grief must be overwhelming. My grandmother in New Zealand lived in a housing unit for the elderly. She had a hospital admission when she was 85 and never went home. Nana fell into depression and rarely left her bed. She had no interest in the other residents, faded away in front of our eyes and hoped every day to die in her sleep. She eventually got her wish.
Her son, my father, now lives in a retirement village. He has lost all of his close friends. How does he stay positive? From the moment he saw a model airplane at the age of 14, he was hooked and has built and flown them ever since. He potters in his garage every day and also loves to watch sports. Once a week, the complex puts on a community dinner, and Dad loves to socialize. He no longer drives but has a mobility scooter and goes down to the rec hall to play pool or snooker. He belongs to the music group and will join in any game of poker. He finds positivity in his days. Dad has never said he's had enough of life and wants to die, but he has four children who visit weekly. So many elderly lead a lonely life.
Psychological resilience is defined as a person’s ability to adapt to stress and adversity. Moving is number one on the list of all time stressors. A report on Mental Health and Resilience at Older Ages concluded that resilient elderly are more likely to have high social support, an optimistic attitude and positive emotionality. Despite adversity, most will have good outcomes.
The character of Alice in my novel, 'Just Wondering', is loosely based on
my Kiwi grandmother. Nana was a woman who said exactly what she
thought and had a reputation for being outspoken and spirited. That was
until she moved into a nursing home and decided that her life was over.
I wanted Alice to exhibit the feelings of loss and grief, but to also show
that it was possible to make a new life when the door ro her house shut
for the last time, and the nursing home welcomed her inside.
Resilience is an attitude, and attitude is everything!