How Two Daughters Approached "The Talk" with their 92-Year-Old Mother

"Don't get frozen."
Posted by The Arbors on Mar 29, 2019 8:00:00 AM

mother and daughter holding hands, focus of the image is on the hands

At 92 years old, Nancy S. loved living at home — or at least she thought she did.

She liked having her own space, but when darkness fell, every sound made her jump. She’d call her daughters in the middle of the night. “She was terrified,” says her daughter Carol Dannenberg.

Nancy was a social butterfly, too. “But when she was home, she was blue,” Dannenberg says. “She wanted more attention, more social interaction. My sister and I were there, but it wasn’t enough.”

And she was fiercely independent.

“She didn’t want to accept any kind of outside help,” says her other daughter, Paula Katz. She kept cooking despite worsening visions problems, which left her two daughters fearful for their mom’s safety. “I had incredible anxiety about whether the stove was going to be left on,” Katz says.

That’s when Nancy’s daughters knew it was time to start exploring their options.

Look First, Talk Later

Before Katz and Dannenberg wanted to broach the topic of assisted living with their mom, they wanted to research their options. They knew they wanted to find a place near Katz, who lives in Massachusetts and their mom’s primary caregiver.

“Paula knows the area and has a lot of friends who are in the same situation,” says Dannenberg, who lives in New York. “Women talk to each other. There was a lot of networking.”

In addition to asking friends for referrals, the sisters did a lot of online research and toured numerous facilities.

“We had tours, and then we went back for double tours,” Katz says. “We ate meals at the facilities. We talked to residents, not just the staff and the Marketing Directors.”

When they stepped into The Arbors at Chicopee, they knew they had found the right place for Nancy. Not only was it bright and sunny, but the sisters felt a familial connection to The Arbors.

“They’re a family taking care of your family,” Dannenberg says. “They understand family better than a whole bunch of people who just work together. Family businesses are always better. There’s pride in a family business that shows.”

Now the sisters were ready to talk to their family.

Setting the Stage

Katz and Dannenberg had many conversations before they embarked on “The Talk” with their mom. 

“It’s not an easy thing to talk to a parent about,” Dannenberg says. “We waited until we had done our research and knocked communities off our list. We really waited until we knew it was necessary. We didn’t feel like we needed to build up a lot of anxiety talking about change.”

It became necessary after Nancy required hospitalization and then rehab. “At that point, we knew it was time,” Dannenberg says.

At first, there was denial.

“You look in the mirror and you want to see your 20-year-old self,” Dannenberg says. “And she was an independent person.” Katz adds: “She had a mourning period in the beginning.”

That’s normal. Aging isn’t easy. It’s frustrating. And sometimes it’s scary. You’re being asked to consider leaving everything that’s familiar and comfortable to move to a new place. Your mind whirls. What if I don’t know anyone? What if my children just leave me and never visit? What if I don’t like it?

But after Nancy got over the initial shock, she started to thrive.

A Second Adulthood

Nancy moved into The Arbors at Chicopee in December 2018. Today, her daughters say she’s a different woman.

“She’s having a second adulthood,” Dannenberg says. “She’s much happier. She’s more social. She has a gaggle of women who she talks about. It’s like she’s in high school. It’s a reversal. Rather than a depressing end of life, she’s having a good time. It really made a change. It made things better.”

Katz and Dannenberg are happier, too.

“I’m happy that my mom is there,” Katz says. “I feel that she’s safe, that she's comfortable, that she’s become almost a different person there. Instead of being isolated in her condo, she’s enjoying all sorts of activities and friendships. I love going there and seeing her. It’s taken an incredible anxiety off of my shoulders knowing that she's safe.”

When asked what advice the sisters would offer other adult children who are in this position, Dannenberg says:

“Don’t feel guilty to the point that you are not proactive. You have to get past your own guilt and realize you have to do what’s safest for your family member. Don't get frozen.”

For more tips and ideas to make talking with your parent and siblings about assisted living easier, download our guide Having “The Talk” With your Parent: It’s Time for Assisted Living.

how to have the talk about assisted living with your parent about assisted living

Topics: Caregiver & Family Resources