Gardening Over for Senior in Care

by francy Dickinson             

Dear Francy; My sister is a life long gardener who has severe arthritis and is now unable to dig in her yard. She is heart sick, she looks outside on a daily basis to complain about what should be done. How can I help her adjust?

Gardens are such private things to folks. Some are barely kept, some are loved to lengths that are hard for most of us to understand. My sister was just such a gardener, she passed in her mid-50’s, leaving my mother, living above her, to look out in the garden and lament about it’s disarray. Mom was in her late 80’s and simply could not keep up with the complex gardening that was needed to keep everything in order. So, I have witnessed this sad event and a garden “going to sleep”  that was how my mother described it. It was like losing my sister all over again because that yard had been transformed by her spirit and hands.

First, making an “easy care garden” in close to the house – maybe a quick step to get your sister back to the earth. I’m sure you have seen the small raised beds. You take a bit of land and build a raised bed that is maybe 4ft square and have a seating bench all around it. So she could sit and reach out to plant and tend a small amount of area at a time. She could scoot around the bench or take a daily spot to dig. Remember the many special garden tools designed for challenges can be of great help to hands that no longer are pliable. Small veggies and bloomers could at least make her feel that she was still connected. The raised bed could be close to the house and really block the view of the rest of the garden that will be “going to sleep” with no care. So it would settle her mind on what is in the now, not what is being lost.

Too much? Add some containers and have her pot them up and just do a daily watering. Once again bringing color closer to her reach than watching the large garden.

Too much? Have her plan a way to break the garden down to a minimal area that can be kept with a garden service or someone in her family. That would mean taking out plants and clearing it down to just the larger perennials and spreading thick mulch to keep down the weeds. Think of this as clearing out a house when a senior has gone to a care facility. Have someone come and dig up plants and have your sister “gift” them with little tags telling about their history to friends & family. You could even put up a sign in the front of the house and say, “garden plants FREE for the digging” and have others that love to garden come and dig them up. She would know they had gone to a good home and be calmer about the change. Then her view would be just a landscape that was easy to tame and care for by others.

If gardening has been her life…she may have to make a move at this time, to a place that would benefit her health challenges and leave it behind. Some times – you can not hide the hurt and the constant reminder of something dying or changing in your life. Everyone is different. Some widows/widowers find that staying in their long time home that they shared with their passed spouse is more comforting. Some find that the memories are just to strong and they have to start a new. If that is the case with your sister, remember, moving to a new spot in life is easier the younger you are at the time of the move.

Retirement apartments and communities always have small spots to garden on a limited basis. A small balcony or patio can hold lots of potted containers and keep anyone busy watering. It may seem silly to think of a younger person “retiring” to a community but health challenges are only going to increase, best to get the big move done and sit back and enjoy life. Using all of who you are for the new beginning of your life. Doing different things than you did before. She might find that friends around her for card games and shared outings will soon replace her many hours of gardening to her own drummer. Better than sitting in front of the TV all alone and adding depression to the constant pain of arthritis.

Making changes is never easy. That is not the point, nor is the idea of not affording  it or where to go. Those things can be ironed out. Learning to “think” – I am going to be living for many years and I have to figure out the best place for me to do so, with my obvious challenges. That is the hardest part to tackle. Once the brain changes gears to thinking a new life pattern, that pattern falls into place. Its just getting your mind around change that is always the hardest part.

Even the strongest personalities resist change. Even the greatest dare-devils of their age, feel fear to the unknown future. Your job is to try to think of creative ways to present things to your sister, in a loving manner, that she can think over and choose to take action on – or leave on the table.

Getting older is never easy, but being a gardener does not go away. There are wonderful conservatories, public and private gardens and garden shows to attend. Wheelchairs and scooters are always welcomed at those places and keeping her involved in what she loves, but in a different form, is just as lovely.

If she is able to speak well, you will find that the Internet has “voice blog” sites that are free. What that means is that she could do a twice weekly mini- talk show on the net. She could talk about the time of year and ideas of how to tend to the listeners’ gardens. She would be handing down a lifetime of experience instead of mourning it’s lost. Creative ideas keep us going – that’s your only duty – to keep the ideas coming and let her choose something that fits her love and her abilities.

Blessings on you for caring for your sister, please visit my website www.seniorcarewithsprit.comand get more tips for senior caregiving.

Thanks, francy


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