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Posted by Positive Aging Community on 04/03/2018

Thriving in Retirement

Thriving in Retirement

Margaret Brubaker could calculate the toll that time was taking on her well-trained body in miles not walked and repetitions not completed during her daily workouts.

“I went to the gym five days a week,” she recalled recently. “Treadmill, rowing machine, you name it. I walked every afternoon. I was in prime shape.” She may have been the first to notice her diminished capacity—but she was the last to acknowledge it.

“My husband and I noticed that she was beginning to have some issues, both physical and mental,” said Mary-Jean Huntley, Brubaker’s only child. “She needed help. I was afraid we were too far away to be responsive. But she loved her independence, and she was fairly adamant that she didn’t want to move in with us.”

It’s a dilemma that many families face: how to help aging loved ones adjust to their diminished capacity, while respecting their personal sovereignty.

Margaret Brubaker’s move last fall to Foulkeways at Gwynedd, a Quaker-run continuing care retirement complex in Gwynedd, Pa., was the culmination of a process that had its contentious moments but actually strengthened the bond between mother and daughter. “My mother always valued her freedom and her ability to be social on her terms,” Mary-Jean said. “She loved walks and reading, and she loved her solitude.”

Mary-Jean added, “She says she can’t live (in Philadelphia) where we live. So we found a woman to help out at her house (in Easthampton, Long Island). But she resisted and found a way to discontinue the service.”

Next, the family tried a care facility near Margaret’s Easthampton home. But it didn’t satisfy mother or daughter. They were a few days from contracting with another facility when a blood clot put Margaret in the hospital last Thanksgiving, prompting a sudden change of course.

“That put me out of balance,” Margaret recalled. “I couldn’t get around. I had no choice. “

But, like many people facing an uncertain future, Margaret’s concerns about her next phase of life ran far deeper than a loss of independence. “I know what happens when you move away and lose your connections,” she said. “You age very quickly. You can lose your sense of purpose and each day seems the same as the day before. You fear being left alone with strangers who won’t want to be bothered.”

Margaret and her daughter had seen too many places where people in wheelchairs are parked in front of televisions. She refers to this arrangement as “cheap baby-sitting.” Fully aware of what they didn’t want, Mary-Jean did the research that led them to Foulkeways. The final decision was a family project.

“My daughter looked for places with the best ratings,” Margaret said. “She gathered a lot of information.”

Mary-Jean added, “We did make a full commitment for a month. After that, she was able to make it with us. We did everything we could to make a smooth transition. We bought her an outfit. We rented a van, filled it with her favorite coconut water and cookies, and had her ‘mom music’ playing. We wanted her to know we were all in this together.”

Now, Margaret couldn’t be happier. “She loves it. She likes getting her hair and nails done and reading her books,” Mary-Jean said. “I think she fell in love with the food. She calls me almost every day to thank me.”

Margaret confirms her daughter’s assessment. But she is honest enough to admit that this story could have had a very different ending. “If my daughter had forced me, I would have dug in my heels,” said Margaret with a smile. “But I was ready.”

For more information, Enter Keyword: Foulkeways at Gwynedd

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