Dreading The Talk

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

During all the commentary in the recent Trayvon Martin murder trial,
we heard a lot of references to “The Talk,” between parents and young
black men about how to safely relate to authority figures in moments
of crisis. I have a different Talk to ask about: My mother is 74 and still
living in the family home I grew up in. My father died three years ago
and her life seems to have stood still. She is still able to do her own
shopping, though my kids are a little nervous about being driven by
their Nana. Many of her friends have decided to move into various
forms of group living, ranging from apartments with group
entertainment and on-call services like shoppers to full-service
assisted living with “step-down” units they they’ll eventually move into
when they are in the late terminal stages of life. My wife and I have
gently raised the subject of relocation but she seems to go deaf, or
waves us off with an “I’m not OLD. yet!” I’m concerned that if she
waits too long there won’t be a place available where she might
actually want to live, and that the effort to make it happen will feel
greater and greater over time. How can we get her to have a rational
conversation about this?

Dreading The Talk

Dear Dreading:

First of all, there’s nothing rational about any of this, except the
inescapable fact that most people don’t die at home. But you’re asking
your mother to talk about the subject that turns even the most clinical
of minds into an irrational muddle. Very few people are ready to make
the transition that you’re asking her to consider. You could line up all
the facts, and try to wow her with all the benefits of living in
community with other folks her age. But nothing, repeat nothing, will
make her happy about it at this stage of the process.
If you’re lucky, you will conduct your wooing to get her on board with
the idea that change is inevitable, so she might as well get ahead of
and in charge of the process. My cousin the medical social worker tells
me 95% of families who defer The Talk end of making similar decisions
in times of acute crisis, and are in fact at the mercy of the market
when they do.

I recommend a progressive series of discussions. Encourage her to talk
to her own friends that have moved already. Ask her to elicit from
them candid opinions about what they love and hate about their new
homes. Have her focus on the touch-feely side of things. You can do
the research on cost, waiting list, etc on your own. Start a file with
information both factual and anecdotal. Once she realizes that life on
the other side is in fact life, not just sitting around tapping her feet
waiting for the grim reaper, she’ll begin to get more engaged. Ask her
to tell you what she likes best and least from what she’s hearing. Get
in the habit (you or your wife) of regular lunches out with her, and
then build in field trips to likely places for the tours and marketing
pitches. Too many will be a huge turn-off, so build the list carefully
based on what she seems to respond positively to in her friends’
experiences and what you know will match her lifestyle and finances.
There’s no way around The Talk. Just pray she stays healthy enough
to make a good decision.