Ask Dr. Bleedingheart

What Would Dr. Bleedingheart Say?

Bleeding_heart
Spotted in Dear Abby:

DEAR ABBY: I am a 79-years-young woman living in my own home with my
84-year-old husband, "Jack." Jack was an avid gardener who enjoyed
tending our large yard full of roses, fruit trees, and a variety of
flowers and vegetables. During the past year, however, Jack’s health
has deteriorated and he can no longer do much around our home.

I
have tried to take over some of the gardening, but haven’t the time or
energy to keep it up to Jack’s standards. Otherwise, I feel we’re doing
well. I still drive and keep house and enjoy our great-grandchildren. I
used to keep my home to very strict standards, but in recent years have
realized that a few dust bunnies are not a crime.

Lately, my
daughter, granddaughter and even our oldest great-granddaughter have
been trying to push us into living closer to them, into a smaller home
with less yard and what they believe would be less work for me.
Unfortunately, this has led to harsh words exchanged between my
daughter and me….Can
you help them understand that I have the right to continue to live in
my home as long as I wish, and the choice to move should be mine — not
theirs?

ABBY suggested a reality check.  You’re not getting any younger, she said.  Your kids care about you. Try to keep an open mind and review your options.

Yeah, well. Let’s see if Dr. Bleedingheart can do any better.

Dear Gardener,

Tell your kids to relax.  There is no better place for you and your ailing husband than that garden he’s been tending. Dr. Bill Thomas, founder of the Eden Alternative, was recently quoted as saying, "What I want is an alternative to the nursing home, an alternative to
the institution. And the best alternative I can think of is a garden. I
believe that every elder should have a chance to live in a garden. I
believe that, when we make a place that’s worthy of our elders, we make
a place that enriches all of our lives, caregiver, family member and
elder alike. So the answer the Eden Alternative provides is a
reinterpretation of the environment elders live in, from an institution
to a garden. That’s why we call it the Eden Alternative."

Sure, you may need to hire in a little help.  Tell those bossy kids of yours to chip in.  Remind them that gardening is not work to be avoided.  Gardening is living.  You don’t need to move to a dull little condo that satisfies your daughter’s vision of what old age should look like.  Live in a place where you can flourish.  Get some helping hands when you need them.  Sure, there may come a day when you have to move, but why rush it?  Go outside and cut some roses, and give my best to the fruit trees and the man who planted them.

What would you say, readers? 


Posted by on August 13, 2007 at 5:03 am, in the category Ask Dr. Bleedingheart.
Comments are off for this post

13 Responses to “What Would Dr. Bleedingheart Say?”

  1. bev says:

    Amen to the sentiment. However, there are 2 sides to every story. Maybe the issue of wanting the kids to take care of this big garden is the real problem. Not everyone enjoys garden work. One can have “dust bunnies” in the garden too.

  2. eliz says:

    I gave a talk about Garden Walk at a nearby, VERY upscale senior community. (One couple now had 2200 square feet and a 2-car garage instead of their 3300-sq ft former home–but the medical help was why they were there.)

    Anyway, they were all intensely interested in gardening and really wanted to spend time around gardens. Many of them physically could not go on Garden Walk, much less garden themselves and it was sad. Others had been doing guerilla gardens on the grounds of the place, including a small pond. Most were cultivating the areas around their condos however they could. The point is that gardening anf flowers were still really important to them.

    But I wonder–is this one of the last generations of people to whom gardens really matter in such a universal way?

  3. BPB says:

    What the elderly need to do is have a landscape designer/architect come in & redesign that garden for them to make it easier to garden. For example, raised beds can be tended by people in wheelchairs. The Chicago Botanic Garden has devoted an entire garden space to what they call “Accessible Gardening.”
    Gardening as therapy is starting to catch on in nursing homes. Giving patients access to growing things gives them something to live for, rather than merely waiting for the next meal or the soap opera to come on. It seems that the medical establishment is finally beginning to realize (1 of those Duh moments) that humans do better physically & psychologically when connected to life & the world. A great example of that is pet therapy, where trained therapy animals (mostly dogs) can connect with Alzheimer’s patients, when nothing else can. If I can’t garden or be in a garden or visit with animals & children when I become old & infirm, then please, pull the plug, let me die. What would be the point of living otherwise? As John Mortimer once wrote, “It’s the quality of life that matters.”

  4. Dear Granny,
    Try adopting the ‘dont’ ask, don’t tell ‘ option and see how that works for you.
    Don’t ask your kids for help if you don’t want to hear them tell you their point of perspective.
    Sound fair to me, otherwise consider compromise.
    P.S. Most condos , townhomes and assisted living communities come with a small balcony or patio area where you can easily manage a small container garden or a raised planter bed.

  5. Teresa Gordon says:

    There are two sides to every story. Expecting some help to remain in one’s home is not out of line. However, when an older person or couple can no longer cope and require daily help to maintain there residence it can become difficult. Most of us have full-time jobs in addition to maintaining our own homes and gardens. Perhaps the couple in question are expecting too much. Hiring outside help for some of the home maintenance would be one solution.

  6. Great Granny and her husband have the right to stay in their own home and struggle to maintain their former garden standards for as long as they can financially afford to do so on their own and for longer if those are their wishes and the kids and grandkids can realistically respect those wishes.

    My aging mother came home from church yesterday and commented how sad she felt to see old folks at the home parked outside in their wheelchairs just sitting there with nothing to do as they drove by. She said I do not want that to happen to me. I want to be here in my garden.

    I will respect my parents wishes for as long as that is physically and financially possible.

    Great Granny needs to tell the kids and grandkids to just shut up. Until they are footing the bill they have no say in the matter.

  7. Brooke says:

    If I’m an old lady, and I fall down and die out there in my garden, what a wonderful way to go. Even if I lay there for a while before I die and take in the sights, sounds and smells of my garden one for time, all the better. My great Aunt Lola stayed on her farm and lived by herself with her dogs, cows, chickens, and a shotgun until the day she died.

  8. To die in the garden sounds like the way to go. And if I keep on gardening at this pace, it will most assuredly happen. Soon.

  9. layanee says:

    People who don’t garden, don’t ‘get it’! It is as necessary to the gardener to garden as to breathe! I can only hope that I will topple over the hoe or fall over while I’m planting! No one gets out alive!

  10. There are words in the original letter that really get to me …listen to the grandmother:

    “I have tried to take over some of the gardening, but haven’t the time or energy to keep it up to Jack’s standards.”

    “I used to keep my home to very strict standards, but in recent years have realized that a few dust bunnies are not a crime.”

    She’s used the word standard twice – and each time it’s not her own standard, but someone else’s. Her husband can’t bear to watch his garden disintegrate, and her children can’t bear the idea that their parents are getting old. Maybe the father is demanding help they can’t give. And perhaps the children don’t want the parents’ house to lose real estate value through an easing of those standards.

    I think the grandmother could be like most of us, happy just to still be out there in the garden enjoying the good parts and ignoring the not-so-good, but instead she’s caught in the middle, and that can kill you.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  11. bright says:

    i am lucky enough to have had two sets of grandparents live well into my 20s. one couple took some initiative and sold their house, most of their possessions and moved into a retirement community structured specifically for retired airforce people. i call it, “the grampa greenhouse”. when i visit them, my grandmother practically flutters she’s such a social butterfly. and my grandfather demanded spine and heart surgery last year from multiple hospitals until one finally agreed to operate, and now he’s doing brilliantly.

    the other set had the reverse of what dear abby dealt with… my nanny had a really specatacular rose garden. she started to show signs of dementia, and my papa, independent ol’ son of a gun he is, took care of everything while trying to hide it from us. eventually, his relationship with everyone became adversarial as he tried to keep things the way they were and we tried to follow along behind picking up pieces. eventually that meant moving nanny into a home near their youngest daughter. my nanny died there and now, finally, he is there and seems actually happy. i’m not saying either situation is totally applicable. but i do believe that we mythologize independence in this country. a lot of our elderly are barely hanging on and many of the families in america are so distributed geographically that it’s hard for someone to keep tabs on people who may be growing less communicative.

    i’m happy to see the eden alternative offered. i think the real problem is that most people tend not to research the places where they would be happy in time to actually make it happen. and then you’re at the mercy of people who are hopefully looking out for your best interests. like annie, i feel like this is just spinning out of control for the granny gardener. her standards probably aren’t being met either as she struggles to meet everyone else’s. and she probably has more important and joyful things to do than keeping up appearances. it doesn’t even mention if she likes gardening or not…

  12. Susan says:

    There are definitely two sides to this story, so please don’t judge the kids unless you’ve lived their particular nightmare. Both of my parents have dementia–and both insist on staying in their own home. Neither is bad enough to take to court and declare incompetent (and none of the children want to end our relationships with them on this sour note), but both are struggling to do day-to day activities competently. Neither will allow in-home health care or yard work (we hire ‘em; they fire ‘em). They refuse to move to be near one of us. They refuse to go into assisted living in their own hometown.

    My older sister and I both live two hours away from them, so we both have to arrange our work and home schedules around taking them to all of their various doctor’s appointments (they can’t understand the instructions the doctors give them, so we have to be there to make sure they are implemented). We also fill pill boxes, help with shopping, try to make sure they are eating well, try to straighten out their bills, fix things that are broken around the house. All of this by commuting long distance.

    BTW, I spent more time last year taking care of their garden than I did taking care of my own.

    We love our parents, and we are respecting their wishes to stay in their home as long as they are able, but they are only able to do so because we have given up a lot ourselves to make it happen. Do I think we’ve made the right choice? Yes. Has it been difficult? Yes. Do we lie awake at night worrying about their safety? More or less constantly. Is there a perfect solution to this. No.

    It is nice to say, “You go, old people!” Reality is messy, though, and hard on those who love them.

    All that said, when I go, I want to go tending my own garden.

  13. Susan says:

    There are definitely two sides to this story, so please don’t judge the kids unless you’ve lived their particular nightmare. Both of my parents have dementia–and both insist on staying in their own home. Neither is bad enough to take to court and declare incompetent (and none of the children want to end our relationships with them on this sour note), but both are struggling to do day-to day activities competently. Neither will allow in-home health care or yard work (we hire ‘em; they fire ‘em). They refuse to move to be near one of us. They refuse to go into assisted living in their own hometown.

    My older sister and I both live two hours away from them, so we both have to arrange our work and home schedules around taking them to all of their various doctor’s appointments (they can’t understand the instructions the doctors give them, so we have to be there to make sure they are implemented). We also fill pill boxes, help with shopping, try to make sure they are eating well, try to straighten out their bills, fix things that are broken around the house. All of this by commuting long distance.

    BTW, I spent more time last year taking care of their garden than I did taking care of my own.

    We love our parents, and we are respecting their wishes to stay in their home as long as they are able, but they are only able to do so because we have given up a lot ourselves to make it happen. Do I think we’ve made the right choice? Yes. Has it been difficult? Yes. Do we lie awake at night worrying about their safety? More or less constantly. Is there a perfect solution to this. No.

    It is nice to say, “You go, old people!” Reality is messy, though, and hard on those who love them.

    All that said, when I go, I want to go tending my own garden.

  • Follow Garden Rant

    Follow Me on Pinterest RSS