Taking steps towards total reassurance – the diary of a concerned daughter
When mum died, over three years ago, I couldn’t help worrying about Dad. They had been married for over 40 years and were such a tight, yet sociable unit. Not just because he was now living alone, but also concerns about his wellbeing niggled at me, despite the fact he’s incredibly well for someone in his early 70’s; very active and drives everywhere. Even though we lived in the same county – Hampshire – Dad lived over 50 minutes’ drive away from where we live in Basingstoke and having three young kids meant I was limited with my time to get to see him as often as I would have liked, which always made me feel guilty. And there was the three-bedroom house, it concerned me that it was too much to look after on his own.
The niggles became a bigger concern when I called Dad one day for a chat, and I couldn’t get through. I think he’d turned his mobile off. I tried the landline and there was no answer. If I’d known his neighbours better, I would have given them a call, but I didn’t even have a phone number for them. At that point I was so torn – should I have driven over to check on him, but I knew the round trip would have taken over two hours, or just hope for the best and leave it? But then my mind raced, and I couldn’t shake the idea that he may have fallen. So, I leapt in the car and made the journey, only to discover that Dad was totally fine and had simply forgotten to charge his phone and had turned the ringer off the landline so he could enjoy the golf of all things! Once my heart rate had calmed down, I took in the state of the house. Without Mum’s ‘marigolds’ at hand, the house was looking a little unloved and messy and the garden was getting overgrown. I casually asked him what he’d been up to, and it turns out that despite loving sport all his life, he was now only watching it on the telly – golf, tennis and the cricket and not leaving the house much at all to meet anyone. The kitchen cupboards were also rather bare too. While I was so relieved to see that Dad was ok, the whole trip left me a bit deflated about his quality of life.
That night I spoke to my husband over dinner and shared my concerns with him about how Dad seemed a little isolated and that the house seemed to be getting too much for him to cope with. I resolved that I would make more time to visit him more often. But as a busy Mum of three, planning a visit wasn’t as easy at that. The following week, the juggle of dealing with kids’ sports clubs and a sulky teenager who wouldn’t be moved and so on meant it was a real mission, not least because the nine-year-old demanded she would only go on a long car journey if there was a McDonald’s as a treat at the end… Argh! Anyway, we made it, and I was so relieved we did as a couple of other concerns reared their head. I noticed Dad’s recent electricity bill attached to the fridge and couldn’t believe the enormous rise in cost – especially for an elderly man living on his own. But what really shook me was when Dad regaled a story about a guy who had come to the door the week before, claiming to be from a utility company. He scarpered when Dad asked him for his ID and this, what with the neglected housework and overgrown garden my niggling concerns were now becoming a big worry.
That evening – after the McDonald’s stop, I started googling domestic help and other options to see if I could help try to improve Dad’s living arrangements. But all the searches threw up were posts about care and nursing care and, knowing what a proud man Dad was, I knew he would never accept, let alone listen to me. Added to which, I was staggered at how high the costs were. I felt like I’d come to a dead end. But I was determined to keep searching online for alternatives which is when I stumbled across LifeCare Residences – in New Zealand of all places – which placed a strong emphasis on having an active social life, where the residents sounded like they were very similar to my Dad. I had no idea that LifeCare Residences operated in the UK, and was even more staggered to discover that Grove Place, which is operated by them, was literally ten minutes down the road from where Dad lived in Romsey. It really felt like a moment of fate! I completed the online form then and there requesting a call back.
The very next day, I received a call from a lovely lady called Wendy, the Sales Manager at Grove Place who was very sympathetic and reassuring in equal measure as I was still not certain whether considering such a place was even a good idea for my Dad. I didn’t think I’d get him to even glance at the online brochure as he likes the paper version of everything. Wendy suggested that she pop a physical copy of the brochure in the post as it also contained all the relevant details as well as any available properties and that I could then take my time, together with Dad going through it. A day or so later, the wonderful brochure arrived – it covered everything and really convinced me that this was the answer we had been looking for. I jumped in the car straight away, armed with the brochure so I could explain it all to him. I was kind of prepared for Dad’s reaction. Like I’ve mentioned, he’s a very proud man and felt he was coping admirably, what’s more, he said he loathed the idea of being made to take part in activities all the time and simply didn’t like the food “in those sorts of places”. Basically, he put his foot down telling me, “If I want a simple egg sandwich, that is precisely what I will have. It’s my life and I decide what I do with it!” I must be honest, I felt rather let down by Dad’s response as I knew in my gut it was just the right place for a man like him, but I had to respect the wishes of a proud man. As I left, I discreetly left the brochure on the hall table. Just in case …
Wendy called back a few days later to see what we had thought of the brochure, and I explained that it hadn’t gone as hoped with my Dad. Once again, Wendy was very empathetic, and explained how common this reaction was, especially when considering leaving a much-loved family home. She assured me she would get in touch again soon to see if the situation might have changed. So, life carried on in much the same way for the next few months, with me scrambling to fit in a visit to Dad once every couple of weeks – this time the kids refused to come, despite the bribes as they find his house boring. With each visit, the house seemed grimier and the garden, was more like a jungle than anything else.
Things changed when I took a call from a very shaken Dad. One of his pub mates had been rushed to hospital having had a heart attack – and Dad was very thrown by this news as Barry was the ‘younger and fitter’ of his friends. Barry had been doing some household chores and that was it. So, in the end, it was Dad who brought up the subject of Grove Place after admitting he had looked at the brochure again and was keen to visit. He even said firmly, “not to move in you understand, but just a visit.” I called Wendy and arranged a visit for the following week for Dad and me. Perfect!
Dad was hugely impressed by the facilities from the get-go and was even more delighted to have his fears of ‘an old people’s home’ cast aside by meeting lots of happy, robust, and mobile people. He took in the amazing pool, gym, the choir clubs, and the ukulele group practicing as well as the splendid putting green and petanque court. Seizing my moment, I chatted to Dad in the car on the way home and explained how the house and garden were becoming way too much for him and were compromising his well-being and were part of the reason he was never out with his friends anymore. He agreed that he was simply too exhausted by all the chores and admitted that he had been wrong about Grove Place. It wasn’t the “God’s Waiting Room” he had feared – but rather a dynamic place, filled with energy and so much going on. He especially like the fact he wouldn’t get “roped into things” he didn’t want to. We then moved on to a discussion about selling the house, and the reason he had been determined to hang onto it was he sweetly wanted to give it to me and the grandchildren when they were older. I was so touched by his kind gesture, but I explained that we didn’t need money. After all, he had worked hard all his life to pay for it and it was mortgage free to boot which meant a nice amount of capital for him to fully enjoy his retirement on. I kissed him goodbye and told him that I would arrange another visit and talk through things with Wendy.
On our return to Grove Place, we were both struck once again by how happy and engaged all the residents seemed as we walked through to view a lovely one-bedroom bungalow. As it was much smaller than Dad’s house in Romsey, he could immediately see how much easier it would be to manage. It even had its own terrace and was conveniently situated near all the communal facilities – it really was the best of all worlds. Not least because the facilities are housed in a stunning 16th century Elizabethan Manor House which appealed to Dad’s love of history. He was delighted to hear that the sale of his house would more than cover the cost of the apartment and service charges, with plenty left over too! We had another ‘car chat’ on the way back to his Romsey house, ten minutes away and this time talked seriously about him selling the house. It was an intensely emotional decision, but he admitted that having seen Grove Place, it made so much sense – both practically, socially, and financially. I told him that it would also provide me with so much comfort and reassurance knowing that he was in a safe, caring, and supportive environment. What is more, when ‘that time comes’ there is the added relief of knowing that consummate care is available on site. On that car journey, we decided then and there we would go for it!
Dad wasted no time once he’d made that big decision and put the house on the market the very next morning! The property market being as crazy as it is, there were only a handful of viewings before an offer came through. Once this happened, I called Wendy to confirm we would like to put an offer on the bungalow Dad had liked. Before we knew it, Dad’s house was sold – quickly and easily. My husband and kids all came to help me move Dad into his new home at Grove Place. The kids couldn’t believe it – this wasn’t a boring old house – there was even a private pool for residents and guests to use. They promised to be back soon… unheard of particularly coming from my grumpy teenager! I gave Dad a big hug goodbye, and I can’t tell you how much he had changed, it was as though as visible weight had been lifted off him and for the first time in a very long while, I drove away from Dad without my old worries haunting me.
So, when I called Dad up to see how he was settling in and there was no response on his mobile, I didn’t feel any concern like I did in the old days. I simply picked up the phone to the village concierge, Nika. She was immediately reassuring as she knew exactly where Dad was and confirmed with a smile in her voice that he was at the local pub playing darts with some guys from the snooker social club. She asked if I wanted to leave a message for him, but I declined as Dad was not just fine, he was more than fine, he was happy and active once again and I couldn’t be more relieved, delighted or reassured.
Note: Lauren Henderson, and her father Nigel Connolly are fictional characters, but their story is based on genuine residents’ experiences and feedback as told to the Grove Place team. If you’re seeking more from the next chapter in your life and would like to find out more about our offering and how we can enhance the ‘every day’ please call T. 0800 009 6950. For those who are unable to visit in person, we are also able to offer virtual tours of our communities at your convenience.
LifeCare Residences. We care about living life.