My husband and I have faced many health challenges. In May, I was in acute heart failure and had open heart surgery. Now I have a pig valve in my heart and it seems to be working efficiently. This is a welcome change because I am my disabled husband’s caregiver.

Almost a year ago, he fell to the floor and fractured his pelvis in three places. A paid caregiver was with him at the time. Though I don’t know how the accident happened, my husband says he thought he was transferring from his bed to a shower chair, only the chair wasn’t behind him.

Relatives advised us to move to a retirement community with support services. Researching communities took months. In our hometown, the demand for this housing exceeds the supply. Most retirement communities were full.

Then we heard of a vacancy in a community we toured years ago. In fact, we put down a deposit. We visited the vacant apartment, liked the views, and decided to move in. Then the real work–culling possessions and renovating the apartment–began. I made most of the decisions.

As I was doing this, I realized that choosing a retirement community is also about choosing a place to live and die. This realization became clear when I met with administration and had the final tour. Part of the tour was seeing the picture frame where photos of the newly deceased are displayed.

This brought back memories of my father-in-law. Dad died here at age 98 1/2 years of age. Family members followed Dad’s wishes and we didn’t have a public memorial service for him. Instead, we had a private memorial, ate Dad’s favorite foods, and watched family movies.

We’ve lived in the retirement community a month and are slowly adjusting to group living. Do I want to die here? This question is still being answered, yet I know some important things. I know administration cares about the residents. I know kind, caring people live here. I know friends and strangers comfort each other. I know the community has a continuum of care.

Before I had open heart surgery, I planned my memorial service. The plans included a display of the books I’ve written, choir music, hymns. and a synopsis of my life. I emailed the plan to our minister. “Thank you,” he replied. “I wish more people did this.”

Moving into a retirement community involves a series of adjustments. My husband and I are making these adjustments together. We are blessed to be alive, be here together, and love one another more each day.

If you are thinking about moving into a retirement community, please allow enough lead-time and do your research. Does it offer a continuum of care? What are the fees? Are the residents happy? Do I want to live here? Do I want to die here? Have I planned my memorial service?

Love has many forms. Planning for the end of your life is an act of love. Your answers are a gift for family members and will make their lives easier.

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Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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