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Finally, a better home for my husband

By the time I toured Gardenia Place, I had already explored two board and care homes that wouldn’t work for Robert. Skeptical of finding a memory care placement that wouldn’t break my heart or my wallet, I was dispirited. The eldercare placement service I was using was positive I’d find a fit, and undaunted they led me to Gardenia Place. 

Sweet location

Gardenia Place is a board and care home a few blocks from our daughter, Maddie’s house. Maddie and I toured the facility one late afternoon in August. The home is set in a pretty residential neighborhood that abuts a public path along Staple Creek with moss-covered oaks and blackberry brambles teeming with birds and squirrels. 

The building was purpose-built for board and care, with six small bedrooms lining the wide hallway from the front of the home to the backyard. Each bedroom had a window or a sliding door to the outside. Gabriela, the owner of the building ran the show. She is not in the real estate business, she is in the elder care business. (See A bottom-feeding, for-profit business to understand the distinction.)

Not my decor per se

The knick-knacks in the common areas were straight from TJ Max/Home Goods. Pink and brown-toned birds of wire and paper mache lined the shelves. Faux canvas prints of sepia-steeped Italian decanters adorned the walls. A bowl of vinyl grapes sat on the dining table. The bathrooms were clean and each room had a television. 

Robert no longer needed a room that mimicked the colorful ambiance of our family home. He would not notice the walls were scuffed and the doorjambs banged up at wheelchair height. He just needed a window to the outside and he needed to believe the bathroom was his alone. My standards had relaxed. 

What’s important

I recalled a lesson from Atul Gawande’s book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. Too often we select care homes based on where we would like to live. Are there cloth napkins on the dining table? Are the walls painted a pleasing color? Is the WiFi connection high-speed and reliable? Our decisions are not always based on what our loved ones need or desire. I wouldn’t want to live at Gardenia Place, but I liked the staff. The home would be a good fit for Robert.

There were no current openings, but two of the six residents were receiving hospice care. They were expected to pass in the next few weeks or months.

Fatima, the onsite nursing lead at Gardenia Place scheduled a visit at Daylight to meet Robert. After the visit, she’d consult Gabriela and let me know if Robert was a fit for the home. 

Visiting Robert at Daylight

Fatima is a tiny Filipina with a delicate laugh and a warm, easy smile. She was so very sweet with Robert. In her quiet, direct gaze she immediately engaged him in conversation. She asked him if he’d walk toward her and asked my permission to record his gate. 

I pulled Robert to his feet with a light touch under his arm and a delicate lift. He shuffled to Fatima with a grin on his face. She asked him to sit next to her in his recliner. He was unsteady in his descent. I reoriented his bottom to the middle of the seat and held him by one elbow to lower him into the cushion. Fatima congratulated him on his fine work. In reply, Robert offered the ebullient smile of a child. 

A sigh of relief

Gabriela called me later that evening. Fatima and the rest of the team felt Robert would be a good fit for Gardenia Place. I would drop off a deposit check in the morning to hold a room.

Ten days later, the resident in the back-most bedroom at Gardenia Place passed away. His bedroom had a slider to the backyard and was next to the bathroom. Did I want the room for Robert? Yes, I did.

On a 104-degree day, over Labor Day weekend five days later, my son-in-law, Trent, and I moved Robert from Daylight to Gardenia Place. 

And in a great ironic twist that typifies this sort of tragedy, I borrowed Will’s truck to move Robert’s belongings. Will was the man I had begun seeing a few months before. (A year later, I’d total said truck in an accident, but that’s another story.)

. . . . . . . . . . .

This is the short version of the criteria I used in selecting a board and care home for Robert
  • The home should be within a 10-minute drive of my house and close to Maddie’s too. I never want the distance to Robert’s home to dissuade me from visiting on a given day. (Rain or shine or sleet or snow…)
  • The care staff must be experienced with several years of employment at the home.
  • The care team must take Robert out of his room every day for meals and to be with the other residents. I don’t want him sitting alone in his room until one of us comes to visit.
  • Robert has to LIKE the caregivers. 
  • The home must be licensed and free of complaints to the state licensing board.
  • The home must be regularly cleaned and hygienic.
  • In the best case, the owner of the building would also employ the care team. I wanted the building owner to be in the business of elder care, not real estate.
  • The room must provide the amenities that Robert most cherishes (the amenities I would have wanted for myself are irrelevant): Windows or a door with sunshine streaming in, a view to something outside he could count, a television, WiFi for streaming music, and proximity to a bathroom.

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