Thursday, October 16, 2008

Helping a parent in crisis - finding interim services and moving forward

The continuing saga of helping a parent in crisis. So here’s how my mother and I managed our week together. We had to focus on mom’s health as well as considering future changes for her. She wanted to explore area retirement communities and the possibility of selling her home. I wanted to ensure interim services were in place when I left at the end of that week.

So, here’s how the week went for us:
1. Mom’s health and medical appointments were our #1 priority. We scheduled all of her appointments as early in the week as possible. One thing I learned was to build a lot of extra time into getting to and from appointments. Mom needed to move slowly and use a walker for the first time.

2. We mapped out the first hour after breakfast each morning to handle financial calls, paperwork and business matters.

3. Mom picked out 3 retirement communities to visit. We prioritized them in order of which one she thought she would like most. This worked great because once we visited her first choice, she knew that was the place for her. (We laughed about this….because this is exactly what two of my sons told me when we visited their first choice in colleges!). I’ll follow up with future blogs that describe why she decided to sell/leave her home and also how she came to choose her retirement community.

4. Since Mom had to wait for an opening in the retirement community, we had to take some interim steps to help Mom live on her own after I left at the end of the week.
a. We called a wonderful place called “Visiting Angels” (offered services of light housekeeping, medication assistance, companionship). Mom decided she did not want a stranger coming in her house but we chose to accept their offer of Lifeline Alert. She was able to prepay for 3 months and it was installed on the spot. This gave Mom much peace of mind because she had a small number of steps to navigate in her home.
b. Meal preparation was a big concern. She could not drive to get groceries and didn’t know what to eat. Given her poor physical health and low immune system, eating the right food was important. I contacted Meals on Wheels and they started service as soon as I left. They have an income-based fee scale and provide a hot meal at noon and leave a cold meal for dinner. Although Mom sometimes complained about the food choices, she looked forward to the daily visits of the very kind people who delivered.
c. Mom’s closest friend agreed to stop by and visit once a week, Friday, check on her blood sugar, check the status of Mom’s home and Mom and let me know if things started to deteriorate.
d. I also arranged for a cleaning service to come in every other week and scrub down her kitchen, bathrooms, vacuum and do laundry.

5. The biggest physical problem we had with Mom’s house was the trash and clutter that was absolutely everywhere. I worked late into the night hours separating out what was obvious trash. I tried, as best I could, to have her look through stuff before it went in the trash pile. By the end of the week, I called the refuse guy in. They ( he had a crew of 4 very strong men) took away a “ton” of trash. This is not an exaggeration. The guy actually had to weigh the stuff at the dump to know how much to charge us. I didn’t do this all alone; twice my dear childhood friend over as we sorted through stuff. It was like stepping back in time. We found income tax returns from the 1950s!!! By the time the refuse guy left, the entire bottom of the house (family room and unfinished area) was emptied out. This was a big feat but it also made me realize how much we had left to go!

6. We knew early in the week that Mom wanted to sell her house. The realtor said she could sell “as is” and someone (a house flipper) would likely scoop it up for a good price. She said no; she wanted to fix it up and sell it to a nice family who would fit into her neighborhood. From that moment on, I became the only person that was allowed to speak to the realtor, general contractor and anyone else interested in anything. Everyone had my cell number and knew they had to go through me. This took a huge burden off my mother. Now that Mom decided she wanted to sell, we decided to move quickly,
a. She applied for an equity loan from her bank
b. She had a new roof and gutters put on
c. We met with the general contractor, got a fixed price contract to renovate the whole house; all new cabinets, paint, carpet, fixtures, bathroom sinks. The price was more reasonable than we had expected. I checked the contractor out thoroughly and our family friend checked the work frequently.

7. I’ll finish this blog now by sharing that the contractor finished 2 weeks ahead of schedule, the house looked brand new. This gave Mom such a sense of pride that she was providing something of quality to another family. The house went on the market and sold in ‘one day’.

The key to this success was to thoroughly check out everyone we worked with; to negotiate, clarify and understand all contracts and always keep the end goal in sight….to see Mom’s house the way she wanted it sold so that she could move, unhindered, into her new retirement community.

Stay tuned tomorrow to hear how we selected a retirement community.