When Someone Else Moves In:
Together Requires Adjustments And Sensitivity
By Carol Abaya,
Mildred, 77, lived alone in a neat trailer after her husband died in 1979.
One daughter and two granddaughters lived nearby.
Mildred was very independent
and didn’t like to ask for help.
Then Mildred became
very ill and was in intensive care for several weeks. When she returned
home, she was mentally confused, depressed, and panicked at being alone.
Jody (mother of four children) stepped in. Mildred moved in with Jody,
her husband Neil, and four children, ages 3 to 11. The household also
included four cats, a dog and two hamsters.
Mildred’s moving in
with Jody culminated several years of change in Mildred’s life and health
Occurred Over Several Years
Jody recalled that
about six years before she moved in, Mildred suffered from emphysema and
was on a strong medication. “The medication seemed to make her mentally
fuzzy, but the doctor kept increasing the dosage even though grandma is
a small person. He didn’t track results carefully. She became extremely
nervous, and my mother and I were always running back and forth.”
By Christmas that
year, Mildred was very depressed -- “Many of my friends were gone” --
and didn’t want to go out.
“She had all the drapes
closed, and the trailer was very dark,” Jody recalls. By that time, Mildred
had also stopped driving. Jody and her mother Edie were not only doing
the grocery shopping but Edie had taken over handling Mildred’s finances.
Sometimes Mildred paid bills twice, while other bills went unpaid.
stay with her daughter Edie for Christmas was aborted when Mildred was
hospitalized with internal bleeding. Jody said she thinks the bleeding
was caused by the medication. Mildred did return home. But said Jody,
“She was very confused and didn’t remember when she ate - or didn’t eat
- or when she took her medicine. She also lost weight and was more depressed.”
Mildred spent that
Easter with Jody’s family and didn’t want to go home. And she didn’t.
Jody’s mother Edie
was divorced, lived alone and worked full-time. Edie’s relationship with
Mildred, her mother, had always been strained because of Mildred’s strong
personality. One of Mildred’s other daughters lived in New Jersey and
periodically took Mildred for a weekend. With family problems of her
own, she couldn’t take Mildred full-time. Mildred’s third daughter lives
on the west coast. Jody’s sister lives in New Jersey with her inlays,
husband and two children.
“I care about her,”
Jody said, “and with my mother working it’s easier to have her (Mildred)
here than to have to run back and forth all the time or to receive panic
calls in the middle of the night.”
Mildred is much happier
and healthier living with Jody and her family. She’s put on weight and
her blood pressure is stable. She no longer has panic attacks in the
middle of the night. She spends her days at the local Senior Center.
A bus picks her up every morning at the door and drops her off in the
late afternoon. A neighbor regularly takes Mildred to play bingo at night.
And Jody is there to make sure Mildred properly takes her medication.
Having Mildred live
with them is “easier,” but is it “easy?”
Said Mildred, “I know
they have had to sacrifice. It has taken time for us to get to know one
Jody and Neil don’t
look upon it as a sacrifice.
Jody looks at the
situation with hope. “I didn’t really know her well before. Now I understand
both her and my mother better.”
Neil added, “Mildred
is not really a burden. She’s not an invalid and gets around. She tries
to help clean up in the kitchen and weeds the garden.”
Neil noted that with
more people in the house, there has had to be more give and take. “We’re
learning to live with certain things and overlook others,” he said.
Neil recalled that
at first he didn’t know whether Mildred would be happy with them, and
that concerned him. “Mildred had to make a big adjustment and let go
of some of her own independence. In her trailer, she had her own friends
and schedule,” he said.
As to loss of her
own privacy by moving into an active household, Mildred said she doesn’t
miss it. “I raised four kids. Now I have four more. You don’t forget
how to raise them. Now I feel like a family.”
Mildred smiles and
added, “Jody is easy going.” And looking across the couch at Neil, “and
he’s not too bad.” Everyone laughs.
Space and privacy
have been only one concern. With four active children, three adults of
different generations and an average sized house, everyone has had to
adjust. Neil, a custom cabinetmaker by profession, finished expanding
the house himself. Until the new addition was completed, Mildred and
the children shared sleeping and bathroom space.
Mildred has her own room and bath with an outdoor entrance, and
all the children have their own room.
Mildred also has her own TV, so she can watch “her” programs, and
her own small refrigerator so she has her favorite foods and juice close
by. However, Jody and Neil have a second mortgage to pay for the addition
and worry about paying it.
Does Jody Cope?
Jody deals with having to take care of another person on a day-to-day
basis. “She’s absent-minded and doesn’t remember everything, and little
incidents can drive you nuts. She periodically accuses one of us of
taking something of hers, and it hurts that she doesn’t trust us. Sometimes
the items aren’t even hers, but she thinks they are,” she said.
At times Mildred gets depressed and said Jody, “When I see her
depressed, I’m not happy. It’s hard for me, and I try to understand her
Mildred’s own unhappiness seems to spill over to how she handles
relationships and what she say to others. “At times she is unkind,” sighed
Jody. “And it hurts that she doesn’t always trust the children.”
Jody also said that Mildred usually doesn’t come out and ask Jody
to do something for her. “She walks around mumbling that she needs a
haircut, but won’t come out and ask me to take her. So I have to take
At other times, Mildred wants things done immediately. “She is
an adult but sometimes acts like a child,” Jody said. “I think she doesn’t
realize that what she says or does hurts us.”
Mildred also has a
hearing problem, but won’t get a hearing aid. Jody said that sometimes
Mildred interferes in conversations with the children because she doesn’t
hear properly. And that creates problems.
“At times, I have to sit back and realize it’s not easy for her
and that she’s been trying to adjust,” she said. “She has a lot of pride
- sometimes stubborn pride, and that isn’t always easy to deal with.”
While Jody’s mother is nearby to help - and she does - Jody said
she sometimes feels alone. Her strong religious beliefs and support from
her husband help her get through the tough days.
Relations between Mildred and her great-grandchildren were at times
While the family always spent time together during the holidays
and special occasions, Jody noted that neither she or the children really
knew Mildred before she moved in.
Jody said, “I do hope
the children see that family is important and we just don’t throw away
old people. The elderly need to know they will be cared for.
“The children sometimes feel she is an intrusion even though we
discussed the situation as a family beforehand. Sometimes they don’t
understand why she has to be here.”
As can be expected, the children’s reactions are mixed.
Nine-year old Jessica looks at the positive side. She likes her
great-grandmother: “She smiles a lot. I like her being around; she’s
fun.” Jessica also admitted she likes playing games with Mildred because
“she plays what I like to play.” Jessica added that she tells Mildred
things she doesn’t tell anyone else.
When asked how he feels about Mildred living with them, seven-year-old
Christopher shyly moved his hands to indicate mixed feelings. He too
said he likes playing cards with Mildred and talking with her “especially
after a bad day at school.”
Among the biggest adjustments are discipline and Jody’s having
less time for the children.
“The children test her (Mildred) to see who is the ultimate authority,”
Jody noted, “and sometimes are too fresh.”
Neil said, “They have to learn to deal with someone who does not
have authority, but for whom they have to show respect.”
The children acknowledge the “testing.” But Jessica admits she
feels bad when she “gets in trouble” with Mildred.
Rachel, the oldest, has had more difficulty. “Mildred picks on
Rachel more often for no valid reason. And Rachel doesn’t take it well
and argues back,” Jody said.
Point of No Return???
Both Jody and Neil agree that they won’t sacrifice their own relationship
or that with their children. Neil admits he is concerned about the stress
on Jody. “I want to make sure Jody does not over do it (having to juggle
For as long as possible, Mildred has a home with them.
P.S. Mildred lived
with Jody and her family for two years. Alzheimer’s then took it’s toll,
and Mildred was placed in a nursing home. She was there for about 18
Look For Trigger
Mildred’s situation points our several “trigger signs,” which can
indicate future problems and should be closely watched and evaluated by
The Sandwich Generation. Often the “signs” are not obvious, and change
occurs over time. But once identified, intervention is usually warranted.
Over-medication or the wrong medication can have dire side affects and
can result in mental confusion as well as other problems. Also, many
medicines reduce the appetite of the taker, which then impacts overall
Losing long-time friends and neighbors - either by death or they’ve moved
away - can have devastating effects on older people. New friends are
hard to find, and new relationships are more difficult to establish as
one ages. Depression often leads to loss of appetite, which then impacts
Change in everyday
living habits: When a “social” person becomes reclusive, there’s
trouble ahead. In this case, Mildred, who loved to be with people, wouldn't
leave her home. Lack of socialization increases a sense of isolation
and rejection, which can lead to a deterioration of basic health and well-being.
Work Precluded Daily Care
Mildred’s daughter Edie was in an unusual position. She worked
for the local office on Aging. She knew the needs of the elderly and
the problems of coping with aging relatives. But knowing about the problems
on an impersonal basis differs greatly from having to deal with one’s
“I couldn’t quit my job,” Edie said, “I need the money as well
as the benefits. Both my mother and I could not live on her social security.”
In addition, Edie was never close to her mother, who always had
a strong personality and “ruled” the family.
So Edie’s own guilt trips weren’t easy to deal with. She felt
guilty that she couldn’t take care of her mother. And she felt guilty
that Jody and Neil took the brunt of the care problems.
Does She Handle It??
Edie’s religious upbringing and beliefs are very important to her.
Her church and friends have given her a lot of emotional support. “We
are accountable to God to do the best we can,” Edie said.
And so she does the best she can. Edie supports Jody and Neil
in several ways.
First, she had to make some hard decisions when Mildred became
too demanding. “She never had much money,” Edie said, “but now for some
reason she thinks she does. At times I have to be the bad guy. This
takes pressure off of Jody.”
Second, she does what she can to give Jody a break. “My major
concern is Jody and Neil’s marriage. They have a good one and are a loving
family. I try to give Jody emotional support. I also do whatever I can
for the kids. I love having them with me.”
Edie also attributes some of her peace of mind to the Senior Center.
“It’s one of the finest in the county. They do so much, and it has a
nice atmosphere,” she said
hope this sharing has provided food for thought
the Funeral” is another sharing story.
Us Again for Still Another Sharing Story.
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