Get­ting a room ready for mom

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Marni Jame­son, Spe­cial to The Den­ver Post Syn­di­cated colum­nist Marni Jame­son is the au­thor of two home and life­style books, and “Down­siz­ing the Fam­ily Home — What to Save, What to Let Go,” from Ster­ling Pub­lish­ing.

The room I was about to move my 93-year-old mother into lay as bare as a new­born. But fur­nish­ing the one-bed­room liv­ing area was the least of my wor­ries. That was one task I could han­dle.

What I wasn’t feel­ing so con­fi­dent about were the many un­knowns that went with the act of mov­ing Mom, who has de­men­tia, who is in a wheel­chair and who sees the world in un­pre­dictable ways (“Are we go­ing to school now?”) from Cal­i­for­nia to Florida.

Mom hadn’t been out of the mem­ory care cen­ter in Los An­ge­les since Dad’s fu­neral two years ago. My brother, who was help­ing with the send-off, and I had no clue how she would re­act to the out­side world, how we would get her in and out of the car nor how she would get through air­port se­cu­rity and on the plane. We also didn’t know whether she would suf­fer the “trans­fer trauma” her el­der care ex­perts warned about or whether she would set­tle into her new place, re­gard­less of how well I dec­o­rated it.

So, like ev­ery other time in my life when I felt out of con­trol, I got busy dec­o­rat­ing.

Mom would be here (Please, God!) in two days. My goal was to cre­ate a space where she would feel at home in a place she had never been. I wanted her room to feel fresh yet fa­mil­iar, com­fort­ing but not crowded.

I ar­rived with four boxes my brother had shipped. That this was all she had left was a sad re­lief — sad be­cause her ma­te­rial life had boiled down to what could fit into four boxes and a suit­case, and a re­lief be­cause I didn’t have more to con­tend with.

The hos­pi­tal bed I or­dered ar­rived. I po­si­tioned it next to the win­dow, which over­looked a gar­den. I cov­ered the bed with a pale yel­low mate­lasse bed­spread and, un­der that, fine-grade cot­ton sheets in pow­der blue, her fa­vorite color.

I placed a gen­tly used dresser in one cor­ner, an up­hol­stered arm­chair in an­other. On the floor, I rolled a wall-to-wall needle­point rug se­cured with car­pet tape. Then I emp­tied the boxes.

As I han­dled the pho­tos, the pieces of art she loved and the out­fits I re­mem­bered her wear­ing on oc­ca­sions both spe­cial and or­di­nary, I felt that fa­mil­iar ache. I’d en­coun­tered th­ese same nos­tal­gic feel­ings a few years ago when I cleared out my par­ents’ home of al­most 50 years. The emo­tions grab you by the an­kles like a strong rip­tide threat­en­ing to take you to the ocean’s dark­est depths.

Many of you came along as I chron­i­cled that jour­ney in this col­umn, which be­came a book, “Down­siz­ing the Fam­ily Home — What to Save, What to Let Go” (Ster­ling Pub­lish­ing), com­ing out next week.

What I didn’t know when I wrote the last chap­ter of that book was that I wasn’t done, that there would be an­other move.

I put Mom’s clothes in her new closet and folded and tucked them into draw­ers. On the dresser, I dis­played fam­ily pho­tos. On the wall, I hung a shadow box of her framed medals from her days as a World War II army nurse, a fa­vorite oil paint­ing and art she had col­lected when she and my fa­ther lived in France in the early 1960s — all im­ages that would tether her to her life.

The next day, I boarded a plane, my carry-on packed with hope, and re­turned with my mother, wide-eyed: “Where are all th­ese peo­ple go­ing?” she kept ask­ing as we trav­eled the free­ways and nav­i­gated the air­port.

When we took off into the big un­known blue, she thought we were hav­ing an earth­quake. I held her hand.

“We don’t have earthquakes in Florida,” I as­sured her.

Eight hours later, I wheeled her into her room, where she mar­veled at how her pic­tures had got­ten there, and I mar­veled at how we had got­ten there. I sat with her sur­rounded by rem­nants of her long life un­til she fell asleep on a cloud of pow­der blue sheets, and I let out a sigh as long as time.

Be­fore I dec­o­rated mom’s new room, I read tips from el­der-care ex­perts and kept the fol­low­ing in mind:

Edit to the essence. While it’s tempt­ing to keep too much, pare down your loved one’s be­long­ings to the es­sen­tials with­out los­ing their essence.

Re­call the fa­mil­iar. Re-cre­ate the look and feel of your loved ones’ pre­vi­ous home within the con­fines of the new space, us­ing their be­long­ings.

Don’t crowd. Mind the mantra “func­tion first.” Clogged clos­ets and stuffed dressers don’t help. I wanted to make ev­ery­day acts of liv­ing sim­ple, and make sure the care­givers who would help Mom dress ev­ery day had room. Put fre­quently used items in places easy to ac­cess.

Sim­ple seat­ing. En­ter­tain­ing visi­tors can take place in the com­mon ar­eas. In the room, one chair or a small loveseat may be enough.

Clear the way. Safety is a pri­or­ity, so clear the area for walk­ers, canes or wheel­chairs. Con­trol cords and se­cure rugs.

Add warm light. Over­head light­ing never of­fers the same warmth as a lamp. Find a place for a stand­ing lamp or ta­ble lamp.

Color con­trol. You likely will be stuck with bland-col­ored walls and no win­dow treat­ments, so add warmth with color. Choose sooth­ing, har­mo­nious colors over strong ones, and avoided busy pat­terns, which can con­fuse those with de­men­tia.

Add tac­tile touches. Soften the sur­round­ings with fab­rics that feel good. Ac­cent a chair with a vel­vet pil­low. Mom ap­pre­ci­ates a soft knit shawl around her shoul­ders, and the quilted throw at the foot of her bed.

When mov­ing a loved one into as­sisted liv­ing, edit their be­long­ings to the essence of their life, which may in­clude fam­ily pho­tos, art they’ve col­lected and, in my mother’s case, her Bible.

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