How Do We Tell Mom We’re Selling Her Home?
Dear Carol: How can we tell our mom who has dementia that it’s time to sell the family home? After months of in-home care, she’s now living in the memory unit of a fine nursing home. Mom’s adjusting well to her new environment, but she still wants to go home periodically. We are having a problem deciding on how to tell her that it’s time to sell her home of over 50 years. We’ve always been upfront and honest with Mom, so we feel we must tell her the truth. Eventually, she’ll need the money from the home sale to pay for her care. Any advice on how to address this would be appreciated. - Sandy
Dear Sandy: To your mom, hearing about the sale of the family home may be nearly as traumatic as hearing of a family death, so your concern is warranted. However, once told, she will likely forget the news very quickly. She’ll continue to want to go home on occasion, but most likely her request has little to do with reality. It’s more a state of mind.
Your admirable relationship with your mother will not let you rest comfortably unless you tell her about the sale. Therefore, my suggestion would be, for the sake of honesty, bite the bullet and tell her one time. Let her know that the home must be sold, and that the money from the sale will be used for her comfort and care. Be sympathetic with her grief, but tell her that it’s important to you all for her to get the best care possible. Money from the sale will help ensure that she does.
Once you’ve told her about the sale, you’re off the hook. You’ve been honest and shared this information. After that, you – and she – will likely be better off if you avoid the issue. Since your mother’s short-term memory is poor, reminding her of the sale will only put her through this loss as though it’s fresh each time. To me, there’s nothing gained in repeatedly putting our loved ones’ through this kind of pain.
Remember that when your mom wants to “go home,” she may actually want to go to her childhood home, or as I mentioned above, to some place in her mind that you can’t even imagine. Home often translates to comfort, so continue to comfort her. She needs to feel as safe as she would at “home,” wherever that may be.
Even if she really seems to be remembering the family home, leave guilt behind and use distraction and re-direction techniques when possible. If these techniques don’t work, hold her hand, tell her you understand her distress, but repeat that her last home is in the past and her current home is in the present. Get her through it the best you can and move forward. My heart is with you.
Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.