As we age, things change, yet change is difficult to adjust to. But because change is probably the only constant in life, I feel it is the one thing I need to accept.

I am acutely aware of how much familiar routines, recognizable environments, even familiar smells we have known all soothe us.

I remember exactly how my great aunt’s old log house smelled. What was it? Musty, undusted or scrubbed, and accumulation of seventy years of living hard, dying soft, singing sweetly, crying bitterly, and I breathed all of this in and it always made me sigh with relief.

Why? Because I recognized it and it made me feel safe, it made me feel that I was part of the continuum. It was part of who I was.

As I ponder all of this, I realize that we have quite a few new residents in assisted living. And each one is trying to step over that line to begin a new life.

I can see the lostness in their eyes. I can see their children trying to make the move easier by staying close. I see courage and tears as they try to readjust to a new life, and that brought me all the way back to my own parents and when they gave up their family home, most of their possessions, and things that made them who they were.

Let me take you back to a time when the unrelenting change was racing through my parents’ lives and home.

For many, many years they resided in the family home, the place where they raised children, the place where washed linens, and clothes smelled like sunshine because there was no dryer except the clothesline. Terrazzo floors felt cold and damp under bare feet, while walls were heavy with memories of trips and dreams and honor bestowed on family members. I loved walking into that house surrounded by mango and orange trees.

But my parents were finding it hard to keep it all going smoothly, and besides, something very scary was happening to my dad. He began talking of things disconnected to reality. He could not maintain a train of thought. There was a lostness in his eyes and we had to step in.

We bought an apartment in a healthcare facility called Abby Delray. All household chores and outside maintenance was done for them, and a lovely formal meal was provided each night.

This was a profound change in lifestyle for them. It was a lifesaver for my mother while my daddy was completely unaccepting of it. Still, it was a good and necessary change.

Unfortunately, that change only led to another, much harder, change. My dad’s tenuous hold on reality slipped away to the point that he had to be moved to the adjoining health center.

This left Mother living alone, and her beloved husband of 66 years she visited four or five times every day.

Once again, Mother’s routines and life schedules were changed. One thing I remember so well when she was ready for bed at night, she neatly pulled down the covers on just her side of the queen bed, and come morning, simply smoothed them back up.

My dad’s choice of books, word search and puzzle books, were eventually changed to Guide Posts and Lady’s Home Journal. The main difference, though, was it was much quieter, because the scrambled thought patterns that caused him to raise his voice in total frustration, and his anger at the world for doing this to him, were no longer, present.

I stayed three weeks with her. My dad didn’t grasp that I’d ever been there from Kentucky, and it didn’t matter to him when I left. However, mother grasped it all. I have never seen such grace and courage when I finally had to go back to Kentucky and Gene. She was the same age, 87, that I am now, and I marvel at her even today.

So I know what change does to you. I know how lonely and hard it is, and I applaud all of the residents I live with. I see them manage new times to eat, new kinds of food. I see them adjust to listening to music or a lecture, and to have our exercise class daily,  and I see most of us doing it all with determination, with a willingness to help one another.

Growing old means change, always, and change means insight and willingness to do so with grace.

(1) comment

Karen Palencar

Dear Jean. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. I’m 20 yrs younger, however I am going through the same things after a severe stroke. Finding change difficult when I was so independent and strong Now I’m struggling for a purpose and trying to do what I love in order to heal. My family doesn’t want to do what I love so I must be strong and mutter through. I do notice an improvement with each adventure. Thank you again for your story, I could picture it.


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