I’m a Mixed Bag of Emotions Over My Sister Moving to a Personal Care Home

Mixed emotions

My sister moved into the personal care home on Monday. I’m happy to report everything went smoothly and she’s feeling good about the change.  She was discharged from the hospital at 10:00 am and transferred to the care home where her husband met her to complete the admissions process. Once alle the paperwork was finalized, administrator, helped her settle into her new room and meet her roommate and some of the staff.

Like many care homes here, there are less single person rooms than shared rooms available, so most residents share a room when they are first admitted. Once someone moves into the facility, they are put on a waiting list for an individual room and eventually moved.

As a new admission, my sister is also on a mandatory 14-day COVID-19 quarantine period. She can’t leave her room for the next two weeks, but people can visit her. I went to see her later Monday afternoon to see how she was doing.

I haven’t seen her since early July, so it was nice to finally sit and chat in person again. Between my own busy schedule, visitation hour times, COVID-19 restrictions that are still in place in certain wards and facilities, and distance from the hospitals to my home, visiting her wasn’t easy.

As I drove to the care home to visit Mom first then my sister, I felt relieved that the rollercoaster of frequent hospital admissions and discharges she’s been on for the last 30 months is finally over. Now that she is in a more permanent place, my sister will finally have the stability, routine and ongoing care that she’s needed for a long time. It’s a relief knowing she won’t be going through the endless turmoil that was jeopardizing her health and life further anymore. Before this admission, every time she was rushed back to a hospital after a short stay in her home, we never knew if she was going to live or die. There were many stress filled days of uncertainty and fear. Knowing that part of hers and our journey was finally over was a positive thing.

But as I sat talking to my sister, grateful that she is still here and finally where she needs to be, I also felt a deep sense of sadness that I didn’t expect. I’ve been so focused on trying to make sure she received the ongoing and proper care she needs, I never thought about what that would actually look like.

And now, here we were, late Monday afternoon, sitting in the care home room she would now call hers and talking about the day’s events, personal care items she still needed, what we could get to personalize her side of the room, and her ongoing health issues. As I sat look at and listening to her, all I could feel was complete sadness.

Adding to my sorrow was her physical appearance. She doesn’t even look like the sister I’ve known all my life anymore. Disease and continued poor health, the permanent effects of the strokes, and the side-effects from the medications she is on have changed her appearance and physical abilities drastically. Her face and body are swollen from the fluid retention, her hair needed to be cut, her fluid filled arms lay limply across her wheelchair tray and the ravages of the last few years have aged her far beyond her years. It’s hard seeing someone so young, she’s only in her late 50’s, in such declined state.

As I sat there listening to her slowed speech, I couldn’t help but wonder if at a subconscious level, she regrets the decisions she has made. My sister’s health decline is completely self-inflicted.  As I mentioned in my last blog, she and her husband spent most of their nearly 30 years’ marriage living a horrible lifestyle where exercise and healthy eating were almost non-existent. The decades of eating a horrible diet of processed and fast food almost daily has taken its toll on both of their health.

But if I’m honest, asking even her subconscious would likely be fruitless. My sister has known for years that if she continued to neglect her health, she would suffer the consequences. I remember talks we had about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regularly was when she was first diagnosed with diabetes 20 years ago, but her response was always “I know, I know”. She would never take mine or other’s concerns seriously.

When she first started having health problems several years ago, doctors warned her of the more serious consequences she would face if she didn’t take better care of herself. She still didn’t listen and, after years of the same poor diet and lifestyle habits, it’s finally taken its toll.  

Denial and the belief that ‘it will never happen to me’ are strong dictators that have far too much influence on many people’s lives and my sister is no exception. Thankfully, she is finally in a facility that will regulate her diet. For that, I’m very grateful.

As I sat there talking to her, I remembered the last trip we went on three years ago and the trips we wanted to go on in the future. I remembered the shopping trips, family gatherings, dinners, and get-together’s she used to enjoy. I remembered how much she and Mom used to enjoy going to play Bingo every week and her dogs that she adored but had to be rehomed due to her declining health. I remembered the happy, lively person she once was. That person is gone. She will never enjoy a life of independence and choice again and that realization filled me with a deep sorrow. It’s such an unnecessary loss. I can’t even begin to imagine losing everything I love so much about life.   

But for all the relief, gratitude, frustration, worry, stress and sorrow that I have and continue to feel, there are many emotions I don’t feel. I don’t feel angry, bitter, resentful or disgusted at my sister or her unhealthy life choices that resulted in her current situation. But I also don’t feel sympathetic or pity for her circumstances either. I know she’s done this to herself and no warnings, words of advice or supports changed her behaviour. She’s living with the consequences of her decisions, she is reaping what she has sewn and it’s just sad.

As I adjust to having two family members in the same personal care home, I’m filled with many mixed emotions. From relief that my mom and sister are both safe, happiness that they can finally see each other again, gratitude that they are both still here with us, to resignation that they both are now living in a personal care facility, helpless to stop these changes, and sadness for the lives of independence, good health, and freedom of personal choice in their own home and community are forever gone.