It’s a cool Saturday morning and Larry Nail hastily makes his one mile bicycle ride to visit his mother, Miss Estelle Nail. The wind’s whistling through the trees as the birds mimic the sounds of the breeze rustling through the leaves below. His trek gives him the opportunity to remind him of one of the greatest decisions he’s ever made in his life…to better the life of his aging mother. She was the first woman to love and care for him, and it’s his turn to return that love. “She wants to make sure everyone’s happy. She’s always putting others before herself, which is a great thing. But now it’s time for her to focus on her.”
Larry’s mother, Estelle, who resides at Avanti Senior Living, is a 90-year-old Southern Belle with Southern charm, who sounds a little like a character from Fried Green Tomatoes, Steel Magnolias or Sweet Home Alabama. Conforming to the myths of Southern Belles, Miss Estelle’s soft sweet voice puts anyone at ease, and her slight southern drawl draws you in. She’s respectful in conversation and uses “honey” and “darling” as terms of endearment, while still maintaining the poise and elegance of a true lady. It’s because of this that Larry chose to do what’s best for his mother; and the decision to move his mother from her home in Tennessee to an assisted living community in Texas was not a decision he made lightly.
Every day adult children have the difficulty of having to talk to their parents about moving them into an assisted living community. The heavy weight of the feeling of guilt that takes over those that have to choose to move their loved one from the only thing they know…their home. This discussion can be overwhelming and traumatic for everyone involved. It’s a decision that some seniors oppose…feeling as if they are being forced from their homes and losing independence. However, being prepared before talking to parents can lessen the anxiety and worry that might occur.
According to Larry, “There really wasn’t any resistance when talking to mother about moving. It was something she had to do. She could do it up there (Tennessee) or down here (Texas). The benefit of moving down here is that there would be more people around, plus we already wanted her down here. I think that was easy. But the decision itself…we kind of had to make that for her. She really didn’t need to be by herself”.
Thinking about the journey that led to this difficult decision, and reminiscing about the love and laughter that once filled his mother’s life, Larry’s reminded of the tragedy that plagued his family and changed his precious mother’s life forever almost 2 years ago. As he sits beside her on a beautiful, hand-crafted wooden three-seater sofa, his arm gently wraps around his mother’s shoulder, and she feels the comfort of his embrace.
“Mom and dad were married 64 years. Dad passed away last September, and they were living in Memphis, Tennessee. It got to the point where she couldn’t live by herself. It wasn’t a good situation. I live here in Texas. Both of my daughters live here, along with my mother-in-law. This would be a great place for her.”
Thousands of Americans experience tragedy in one way or another every year. And the effect it has on everyone involved can be immeasurable. Coping with the loss of a loved one can be one of the most difficult things you ever have to face. When you lose someone that you’ve spent most of your life loving, the grief that you feel usually hits you like a ton of bricks, submerging you with overwhelming feelings of sadness and despair. Upsurges of grief, deluges of tears, how do you cope?
One of the best ways to help your loved one cope with loss is to let them reminisce and talk about their feelings. For Miss Estelle, her face blossomed as she began to remember the love of her life, Mr. Jim Nail. Watching her eyes shine and the smile on her face grow radiant like a sudden burst of sunshine, she begins to tell her story…the story that brought her from Memphis to Texas.
“I grew up in Mississippi, but I’m from Memphis. I went to the University of Tennessee. I took a medical course and worked in a doctor’s office for a long time. That’s where I met my husband. He was living with a friend who was dating a friend of mine. She wanted to know if I would like to meet him and go out sometime. I said ‘Well if I don’t have anything better to do I would.’ So after a couple of calls I declined. Then I said yes, and that was it. After that, it was a short romance and a quick marriage.” She laughs and says “We met in August and we married in December. We lived 64 years together, and had 3 children. Jim was a good husband and I really miss him. He passed away last September (September was a year). Anyway, it was lonely in the house without him. He was sick for quite a long time and went into hospice. After that he went to be with the Lord,” her voice said shakily. “And I was there by myself in the house and I needed to be with people.”
As with many elderly people, the loss of a spouse is one of the top reasons for moving into an assisted living community. While having to move is an individual choice, millions of families have had to make the decision that assisted living is the right place for a loved one. Additionally, some seniors might need help with activities of daily living, such as housekeeping, bathing and eating. Assisted living communities also provide opportunities for socialization, fitness and activity classes, and a safe environment for those that have physical limitations.
Socialization was one of the biggest motivations for Miss Estelle to move to assisted living. “I stopped driving and it was lonely. So, Larry thought this is what I should do…make the change. And being my youngest, I had to say yes”, she laughed. A tender laugh that reverberated around the room.
Helping a loved one transition to assisted living is vital. They are more likely to adapt well if they prepare and understand that change will occur and there will be an adjustment period. The barrage of unfamiliar faces, the atypical art deco lighting and furniture that emboss the community, and the waft of new smells that encase the air can be overwhelming and even intimidating.
But for Miss Estelle, the transition was anything but intimidating. “My first week here was GREAT! It took me a while to get oriented to not living at home, but it’s been fine. As each day went by, it was easier and easier for me to remember that helpers came to help us and do things for us. And it’s just one big family now. I love the ones that wait on us as much as I do my friends. Coming here made all the difference in the world!”
Larry reiterated, “The other thing I would say for her as well is that she was home in Tennessee and kind of isolated. She had friends, but she didn’t drive and couldn’t go anywhere and it was very limiting. Same old day every day…every day… every day. And now she’s got activities. I can usually reach her in the evenings. That’s it. My sister even from Tennessee asks mom ‘When’s a good time to call’. Mom says ‘after dinner’. She’s busy all day long with exercising and playing games.”
It’s important that a loved one’s new home offers the amenities and services that are important to them. Assisted living communities offer residents the safety and security of 24-hour care; however the best locations will also develop a personalized plan to accommodate you and your needs. Whether the sweet aroma of baked goods floating through the air from the kitchen is your Achilles heel, or the sound of laughter echoing through the halls from the community activity room gets you keyed up, finding the right community can make all the difference.
For Larry and his mother, it was not only about location, but the amenities that were important. “We probably looked at 3-4 different places,” said Larry. Avanti was building this community, so there was nothing for us to see. So, we visited their other location in Cypress. To me, the newness of the place was obviously outstanding, but more importantly was the care. So, I thought about the care and how the care was going to be managed. When I got comfortable with that, it was ‘do you go in a nice upscale place like Avanti or do you go to a place with rocking chairs and that sort of thing? So it just made sense. It was exciting for her to be the first one in the room at a brand new community. On Saturdays, I’ll come up and we’ll have breakfast together here. And having her close, a mile away, is super convenient.”
Estelle is very involved in activities at Avanti Senior Living. “We exercise up to three times a day. A lot of the ladies here try to get into exercise even in wheelchairs and with walkers like mine. But it’s been a great experience. The dining room is a good place to get to know everybody. We don’t always sit at the same table because new people are coming in. It’s been really good for me,” she says with a smile looking at her son.
“And along with the things she mentioned, she enjoys playing dominoes, called train. She really likes that. So, it was important to her to have that activity. And most of the other locations we visited had activities, but one of the things that really set Avanti apart was that from 7am-7pm is when you can eat. So, you can have breakfast at 7:00 at night or a steak at 7:00 in the morning. It was not as rigid as some other places. And the ability for her to be on one floor and not have to wait on elevators was a big plus. We were looking at another community and we had to wait for people to get off the elevators and then get on. You wouldn’t think much about it, but when people are walking around with walkers and trying to get on and off the elevators…it’s a little nerve wracking. Avanti was nice because it’s all on one level.”
When choosing an assisted living location, you should visit at different times of the day and seek feedback from residents and their family members. Are the staff members friendly? Do you feel safe and comfortable? Is the location well maintained, clean, and safety oriented? The right place for you is the place where you feel the most comfortable and feel like you belong.
Larry looks around, smirks, and thinks back to when he was first introduced to the staff at Avanti. “This place was just being built, and they were trying to get people interested in the whole idea. They were very hospitable and very nice. We had to drive 45 minutes to another location they had built so we could really see what it was like. And obviously, when we walked through that community, it was like night and day for me based on others we had seen. But in general, they were very friendly, very cordial, and even more importantly, since she’s been here, they’ve been very quick to make sure things are done right…very family-oriented. There’s a book that I love…it’s about unbelievable service. Like the Nordstrom effect where people are constantly doing things above and beyond what you would expect. One time one of the nurses saw us come back from dinner, and we called for them to open the door for us. Not only did she open the door, but she came out to the car, got mom, walked her back in, and down to her room. So, I spoke with Angela, who is the administrator and said ‘You need to clone this lady. This was service beyond. All I wanted her to do was open the door. And she came and got mother out of the car, walked her in and down to her room.’ So, there are several people here who are off the charts as far as service goes.”
Not all seniors who are faced with the fact that it’s time for them to move to assisted living transition as easily as Miss Estelle. And not all family members who are forced to make that decision for their aging parent are as understanding as Larry. It’s normal to feel guilty about taking this type of action. It’s a painful decision to have to make and not knowing whether or not it’s in your loved ones best interest makes the decision even more difficult.
For Larry, his advice is simple. “I would say go into it open-minded. It’s easy to be negative about things. But if you go into with the right mind set, I think it helps. Mom’s a very positive person anyways. But it’s really not as bad as people make it out to be. It’s something that you don’t have to worry about and be afraid of. It’s a logical progression. It’s just like when you get married. You can’t imagine having 2 or 3 kids because you just got married, but it’s a progression. And when you have children, you’re ready for children. And when you’re ready to move, you move. And when you’re ready to come into a place like this, it’s the right time and the people are great. It’s the best option actually.”
Not to be outdone by her son, Miss Estelle had her own words of wisdom. “I think about anyone in my position, and I’ve met some ladies here who hated to give up their home and lost their husbands more recently than I lost mine. And one lady talks about having to leave her things, but she’s going to be fine. She’ll find that she’ll really like it here. You don’t have to worry about anything as far as housework and cooking and everything like that. And there’s lots to do. And now that they have a bus, they’ll be taking us places that they weren’t able to do when we first came here. Not only to the doctor when we need to go, but to shopping if you need to go shopping for something. And it’s just complete. It’s all about complete relaxing and enjoying the rest of your days in a beautiful place. And not having to do housework!” she says in her best Southern drawl.
Lori Alford, Avanti Senior Living COO and co-founder, has made a career of being innovative and a visionary when it comes to creating a home that serves seniors in a way that makes them feel comfortable, calm and peaceful. Avanti literally means “forward” in Italian…a word that resonates with Alford, and what she wants her company to represent. Avanti’s holistic approach to every resident’s health and well-being is the backbone to what makes Avanti work, and each and every resident has freedom, control, and choice over their care. “Making senior living sexy,” says Alford, “that is ultimately what we’re trying to achieve….removing the stigma that the aging population has when it comes to assisted living. We want our building to look, act, feel and touch like a female, down to the lettering of our logo, to the look and feel of our website, to the nomenclature that we use. We want to appeal to a female, because that’s ultimately who we serve.” And when it comes to Avanti’s vision, every person responsible for helping construct and open a community, whether it’s the Chef , the Engagement Coordinator or maintenance personnel, must be engaged in that vision. “We build a really beautiful community that residents are proud of, and we give them a great experience of life every single day, and it just so happens we provide really good care, too.”
So, as Estelle walks the meandering path around her forever home, she greets other residents as she passes them in the hallway. Every staff member who sees her addresses her as Miss Estelle, asks about her day, and makes sure she has everything she needs. She acts as a tour guide, welcoming committee, and social butterfly. When she finally makes it around the entire community, she reaches her room, and in the most sincere and heartfelt voice says “This is my home.”