The new residence
Wednesday, September 17, 20030 Comments
He is now settled in and we are busy personalizing his space with pictures from home and other little items that we hope will remind him of us.
Ours is a familiar story for September, one that thousands of families have just experienced. As a former manager of student housing, I have seen other families go through a similar process -- but this was my first. The only difference is that the person moving into the residence isn’t my son. He is my father. And the place isn’t a college or university: it is a nursing home.
The similarities between these two types of “care facilities” struck me immediately. If you were to tour my dad’s building before the rooms filled up, you’d really have to look hard to tell that it wasn’t meant for young folks starting a new chapter in their lives, but rather for people writing the final chapter in theirs. And from the outside, there is really no way to tell them apart.
For me it called up memories of meetings to consider the long-term use and flexibility when creating new student housing. We wanted to make sure that any new building could support itself financially 20 or 30 years after construction, should student demand for on-campus living go soft, as it had in the 1980s. One of the main fail-safes was being able to transform college and university residences into old folks homes. It makes sense to do so. After all, the needs are quite similar. Both students and seniors need privacy and community, independence and available professional help, cleanliness and safety, and an overall atmosphere of relaxed hominess that the best of these buildings provide. I am happy to report that my dad’s new building has all these necessary ingredients.
My mother and I met with the business agent and signed the papers, wrote cheques, and I initialled in the various places on the contract to indicate that I understood our rights and responsibilities. At the student housing operations I have worked at, this was always done by the student – though many parents were eager to sign on their children’s behalf. I suppose that they were not convinced that their progeny could understand the complicated and serious sounding contract language. Nonetheless we insisted that they try. After all, our relationship was with the student, not with the parents, and we believed that – in our own small way – such gestures helped them to begin to re-define their relationship, for the kids to take on responsibilities and for the parents to “let go.”
The folks at the nursing home have provided a similar service for my parents and I. They have helped us see how things are changing. But unlike the parent who wants to sign for their child, I would have loved to have my father’s signature and initials in all the relevant places on the admission forms and contracts – and for him to understand what it all meant. But the sad fact of life is that I am now the only member of my family able to do these things. As I take on these responsibilities, becoming the “alternate decision maker” or when I write under “status” POA (for Power of Attorney) I reflect how my father and I are -- after years of being separate legal entities -- re-forming as one. As he once had to vouch for me, I now must vouch for him.
As I reflect on the double cohort in Ontario, that tsunami of students washing ashore in the world of post-secondary education, I can’t help but see a second wave. A flurry of buildings are also going up across the land in anticipation of aging boomers, and there are surely some people who have elderly parents and kids starting college and university who will notice the similarity in their loved ones housing and care.
At each end of the spectrum family members are embarked on an adventure that you can’t accompany them on. And though they still need your love and support, part of you will need to learn to accept that you are outside their world. All you can do is visit, help when you can and hope for the best.
And, over time -- and in both cases -- learn to let go.
Marty Williams is the editor of the Student Services magazine Communiqué.
He lives in Guelph, ON.