Finding peace with putting a family member in a nursing home

Anna Weggel
Public Insight Network

Editor’s Note:  We’ve asked a lot of questions in 2012. And you’ve shared with us a lot of stories. We’ve heard quite a bit, over the past few months, about change: how you’re navigating it, how you’re experiencing it, how you’re making it happen.

So now, as one year turns into the next, we take a moment to listen to a few voices of people who are working through change in their own lives, sometimes as a way to improve their emotional, physical or communal well-being — or that of their loved ones. This is one of those stories, written by Janet Heller of Portage, Mich. Heller’s husband recently made the decision to transfer his mother into a nursing home, a move that the American Psychological Association says affects the whole family. Read her story below, and the rest of our change stories here.

Janet Heller was worried about putting her mother-in-law in a nursing home. But the change was good for everyone involved, especially her mother-in-law.

Janet Heller was worried about putting her mother-in-law, Rose, in a nursing home. But the change was good for everyone involved, especially Rose. (Photo shared by Janet Heller)

In October of 2012, my husband and his siblings decided to put their mother, Rose, in a nursing home. She had been getting physically weaker for years and fell frequently. She is nearly blind and cannot hear well. Five years ago, we hired a caretaker to help her, but Rose often required two people when she needed to move. She also had become more sleepy and confused.

At first, I was very worried about transferring Rose to a nursing home. She is very shy, and I wondered whether she would be so terrified in a new environment that she would not make friends. I also worried that she would become even more confused in unfamiliar territory.

Even though my husband and his siblings selected a high-quality nursing home for their mother, my husband felt very anxious, and he stressed out about making the change. No one likes to institutionalize one’s mother. Mike was irritable with me when we went to Chicago to meet with his brothers and sister to inspect nursing homes. But it was hard for him to admit to himself how difficult this period of transition was. I think that we all feel sad that Rose can no longer live in the family’s home. We wish that she were as strong and vital as she used to be, but we do not want to live in a dream world.

Mike and I don’t have children, so we wonder how we will handle old age ourselves. We are both in our 60s, our hair is graying and neither of us pretends to be a youngster. Mike and I exercise every day. I have severe arthritis, and I wonder how much worse it will get and how much arthritis will curtail my activities.

Rose has been doing well in her nursing home. The staff members are patient and caring. Rose’s memory is not as good as it used to be, but she still keeps up with current events and family developments. Like me, she has severe arthritis, which limits her movement.

It is hard for Mike and me to live several hours away from Chicago, where Rose lives. We wish that we could visit more often.

However, we’ve found a good nursing home, brand new, in the community where Rose has lived for almost 40 years. It has many activities for the senior citizens who live there. It has a caring staff: The aides get my mother-in-law to bed early so she gets more sleep. When we visited Rose over Thanksgiving weekend, she seemed more alert, and her conversation was much more lively than usual. She likes the staff and the activities there. She does complain about the food, but that is a minor concern.

I’m relieved that she is in a safe environment and that she is thriving there. I think that we made the right decision.

Anna Weggel Analyst
Public Insight Network

Anna Weggel is a Public Insight Analyst, which means she spends her time crafting questions about upcoming story topics to send to sources in the Public Insight Network and then produces web, audio and video content featuring those sources.

Before finding her home at APM in 2008, Anna received her B.A. in journalism, was the editor in chief of The Minnesota Daily, and internship hopped through Mother Jones, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Pioneer Press, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal, and the Downtown Journal. Anna's non-work life is held hostage by the stage -- where she performs improv comedy and shows with her lady bluegrass band.