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Giving Thanks and Making Adjustments

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By Mark Friedman

I have not seen my parents (that cute couple on my website home page and on the cover of our brochure) in person since last Thanksgiving.  My sister and I had been visiting regularly just to help out with things, but all that changed in March when COVID-19 entered the landscape.  So the decision was made that this year my family would be with them.

The original plan was for my wife, my son and I to pick up my daughter at college on Saturday prior to Thanksgiving (about a 9-hour drive from our home), and then continue on to my parents home—about an additional two hours on the road.

Our plan was always to put their safety first.  And we felt confident we had achieved our goal.  My wife and oldest son and I all work from home and have been symptom free. My college daughter gets tested every week and has also been clear. We had planned to all be tested two days before we left and would quarantine before heading to my parents. In essence, we created our own little “family bubble.”

We would drive straight through, only stopping for gas and restroom breaks. Our plan was to spend six days with my parents. Other than (maybe) outside at a social distance, we would not see others while visiting. Then, we would drive back in one day. But that plan changed.

My daughter was not comfortable with the plan, showing concern that while she had been testing negative there was still risk for my folks.  As much as she wanted to see them, she decided to opt out.  We understood and respected her decision.

After much discussion, it was decided that I would make the journey alone. I drove straight through, stopping only for gas. When I pulled in, they were both waiting inside the garage door. Mom had a big smile on her face and tears streaming down her cheek. The first thing she said to me as she hugged me was it was the first hug she had received since last March. As Dad hugged me I came to realize the true impact of social isolation and the value of something as simple as a hug.

Immediately after my Mom made sure I ate enough (it’s what Moms do), and she dutifully reviewed all the meals we would have while I was there, my folks presented me with a list of things they wanted help getting done. While this was happening, I made a point to pay close attention to what they do and how they do it. Here are my observations:

  • Shopping is complicated. Online is possible but only to the extent that they are comfortable doing so, and understand how and from which online retailers to shop.
  • Errands and medical appointments are their social lives; in general, and especially now
  • The physical requirements of the house are in control but can be significant and daunting. Prioritize, Simplify and Optimize.

This was my task list:

  • Task 1: Their reaction to being largely sequestered since March is they have too much stuff they do not need. First order of business; review the stuff and help them make a plan to get rid of it.
  • Task 2: Organize the paper towels and toilet paper they acquired. There are legitimate shortages of product where they live. For frugal purposes, they like to buy in bulk. However, they have difficulty safely handling items that may be too large (i.e., Mom cannot lift a large Costco-sized laundry detergent. Same with a half-gallon of milk). Two bags of groceries have to be split into five bags so it is manageable. My brother and sister have been shipping items to them via Amazon. The good news; they have plenty of items. The bad news; it’s overtaking areas of the house.
  • Task 3: Change all the light bulbs, and anything else that requires a ladder or step stool so they don’t have to use one in the future.
  • Task 4: Optimize their house for wireless. Their access point is at one end of the house, with the bedrooms at the other. Give them access to the strongest signal possible. This is their lifeline.
  • Task 5: Dispose of old electronics. They had been storing the old computers and other electronic items in the attic; afraid to throw them away.  I destroyed the hard drives and disposed of the computers and old TVs, which allowed for a lot of free space.
  • Task 6: Understand what they do online versus in person, and how they decide what to do or even understand what is possible
    • My mom does not shop online other than via Amazon, “But that only works on your father’s computer, not mine.”
    • They still go to the bank, which is great as they do the drive-through and have the chance to see people and be seen. However, they did not know about making a mobile deposit.
    • General lack of comfort using credit cards online. On a future visit I will discuss options like setting up a ghost card for online shopping fears, tips for online safety, etc.

We had a great visit, with tears flowing freely as we parted. There were numerous precious memories during the visit, but the embrace they gave me when I first arrived and the hug they gave me when I left topped the bill.  I can still feel both!

Here are six steps for a successful holiday experience that we took away from the visit:

  1. Communicate:  It is critical that everybody understands each other’s concerns and fears.  Talk openly about them. What is behind them? Define the “Must Haves” versus the “Wants.” Understand the implications of each person’s view.
  2. Align on a plan: Do not try to convince others of what you want. Focus on the “Must Haves” first, and then work the plan to meet the wants as best as possible.
  3. Stop and think: Give everyone a chance to reflect on the plan and the tradeoffs they may be required to make.
  4. Adjust to new information from anyone in the group:  This is not a negotiation where you are trying to convince others you are right and they are wrong and you want to convince them to “just go with it.” This is a time to, if possible, build around the most restrictive needs.
  5. Be willing to cancel at the last minute:  Last minute concerns can arise and things can change quickly. Be willing to accept that without holding it against anyone.
  6. Take recommended precautions while you are together.
  7. Treasure the hugs!

About the Author: Mark Friedman is the Owner of Senior Helpers Boston and South Shore. He is passionate about seniors ability to age in place.  The goal of his agency is to set a new standard in home care in Massachusetts first by delivering an exceptional home care experience in through highly trained caregivers and case managers; secondly by becoming a significant connection for elders to resources and services in the 75 communities his company serves. Friedman writes and leads continuous education with NASW, ANCC and EAB credits.  He has taught in the Lasell College ELDER certificate program, guest lectured at the Tepper School of Business, Harvard Business School Executive Education, Emerson University and others. He is a member of the Private Duty Advisory Committee of the Home Care Alliance of MA and a founding member and Vice Chair of the Home Care Association of America Massachusetts Chapter.  He has also served as the national Chair of the Senior Helpers Owners Council for over 5 years.

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