Is your senior parent house-bound or in a care facility? It can be challenging for both of you to make the visits feel special when the family rituals are removed. I remember when we used to visit my grandmother in her home. She always had some treats for us and enjoyed serving us and sharing whatever special food or drink she had purchased. When she moved into a care facility, she no longer had the ability to “host” us, and it left her feeling like she had less value. She would sometimes save her dessert for me, which was so incredibly thoughtful, but to her, it was never enough.
For most people of that generation – or really any generation – they enjoy hosting people in their home. Being able to offer food or drink to their guests is a ritual they have done for decades, so once they are unable to do this, they feel less valuable. Many of my clients made a trip to the grocery store if they knew they were having a guest so that they would have special food and drink to offer that they don’t normally keep in the house.
What happens when your senior parent is either no longer able to get out and purchase special treats or has moved to a care facility? Are there things you can do to make the visit more special?
Bring treats that they used to offer you: If your family is from a different country or region, did they serve foods from that region? My grandmothers were from Colombia and Jordan and both offered treats from their home countries when we visited. Once my grandmother moved into a care facility, my mom started picking up snacks from a local Colombian restaurant. While my grandmother wasn’t the one offering the food, we could still enjoy it together.
Make it feel special: My husband hates eating off paper plates. He is the dishwasher in the family, so I leave it up to him to decide if we are going to use paper or real dishes. To him, the meal isn’t as enjoyable when he is eating off a paper plate. If your parent has left his or her home, don’t get rid of all of their dishes and glassware. Keep a few pieces so that when you do visit, they can still enjoy a snack on their own plates, or tea in their own mugs. Space is usually a premium in a care facility, but making room for 2-4 dishes and glasses makes dining feel more special than eating on a paper plate. You can stash a sponge and small dish soap in their bathroom for quick clean up.
Sit down: This seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes, if our elderly relative is bed-bound, we tend to hover, rather than sit together. It can be even more difficult if they are in a care facility and bed-ridden as there is limited space. If at all possible, have seating available in their room and encourage them to sit during the visit, rather than lay in bed. Most rooms have space for a chair, so bring in a sturdy chair with arm rests for them, and if there isn’t room for you and your family members to have permanent seating, consider stashing a few folding chairs in the closet for visits. If your parent is living at home and not able to get in and out of bed, consider using a wheelchair for the visit so they are still able to sit with the family in the living room, rather than having people hover around their bed.
Make it home-y: I have a friend whose father was in the hospital just before Thanksgiving and when he returned home, was bed-bound. Rather than putting his new bed in his bedroom, they opted to keep it in the living room for Thanksgiving so that he could be part of the activity. Sure, they could have visited with him in his room, but he would miss out on the activity surrounding setting the table and getting the food on the table. Keeping his bed in the living room, even though it was temporary, enabled him to be part of the action. If your parent is in a care facility, you can make their room feel more homey with framed pictures, artwork from the grandkids or a few special knick-knacks that remind them of home. This is their new home, make it feel that way, not like a hospital room or temporary spot.
Dine together: If you are able, sharing a meal with your senior parent at a table makes a huge impact. I used to work with an 87 year old woman whose son came once every three weeks to have lunch with her. It was literally the highlight of her month. She planned the meal for weeks, even though she was on a restricted diet and it was extremely difficult for her to cook and prep food. The act of sitting together at the table and having a conversation was something she treasured. My dad used to visit my grandmother in her care facility and bring lunch for the two of them. She loved french fries, so he would bring a burger and fries for each of them. She truly treasured that time. As we get older and our kids move out of the house, we find ourselves eating alone more often than not. Sitting with someone to enjoy a meal means so much to them.
How do you make your visits with a home-bound parent more special?