(photo: residents of Bishop Place in Pullman, WA)
May McLean has mastered the art of transition. She has moved 14 times. Her first big move was from Scotland to the United States. She raised two kids in 3 states and every province of Canada except Newfoundland, while her husband worked as a mining engineer. After his death in 1989 she stayed in Louisiana.
For health reasons Mrs. McLean decided it was time to live closer to her son, David, who is an engineering professor at WSU. So she moved into an assisted living community in Pullman, Washington. The move from Louisiana to the Palouse sent shivers up her spine.
May McLean: "I thought I landed on the backside of the moon. I had no coat, no boots. My son said, 'Mum, you look like orphan Annie.' I was shocked. Coming from 81 something when we left in the morning. It was very warm down there. And the next day there's a blizzard."
That was three years ago. She still misses her former home but has found a new one in the Northwest.
May: " I lived 20 years in Louisiana but the staff here is exceptional. I am very blessed."
(Sound of walking towards her apartment)
May is a cheery woman who uses a walker to get around Bishop Place, a beautifully decorated, color-coded facility. Blue colored décor indicates you are in the independent section. May's apartment is in the maroon area. With the warm tones of carpet and wallpaper, it feels like a fancy hotel.
May McLean: "I love my apartment. It's got two rooms, highs ceilings and mine has a patio that goes outside. I think that's a bonus."
May says attitude is important when dealing with change and encourages people to do two things: Buy long term health care insurance and embrace everything new. But for some, it isn't as easy.
Deena Stevens: "Some aren't accustomed to it and nothing can be done to change it. But for others this place instantly becomes home."
Deena Stevens is the business manager at Bishop Place. Her family has been working in elder care for 30 years. She agrees with May that attitude is important.
Deena Stevens: "None of us likes change and we realize that! It depends on the attitude of the person coming in . For some people there are more social things and it fills up emptiness in their lives."
May McLean truly enjoys socializing with her new friends and attending performances. As she spoke of the entertainment provided in her new home, Mrs. McLean's eyes light up.
May McLean: "There's always something here. We had a wonderful group of graduate students from WSU music department came in. This afternoon the three ladies, I think they have trained voices, but beautiful voices who come for an hour and entertain. Right now there's bingo going on!"
May has made a new and fulfilling home for herself in the assisted living community. But there are others who never get used to leaving their former homes.
May McLean: "There's one lady I'm thinking of. She's in playing bingo right now. She's 96. She sits and looks out the window and I said to her, 'what are you doing?' and she said, 'I'm thinking about going back to Potlatch!' where she lived and she still owns a farm. I guess that was her life on the farm so she would love to go back. But I think her family are good to her and take her out."
Deena Stevens: "I think a lot of times families or even people that are interested think of assisted living as the old time nursing homes and we are not that at all. It's a very active community."
Most people try to hold on to their houses, even when children, spouses and friends pass on. But others, like May McLean embrace new friends and new opportunities. She even took a computer class recently.
It's impossible to stop the transitions in life, so you might as well embrace them. The lucky among us will end up in a great facility with active social networks and chances to learn new things. And as for the elephant in the room, death, May says,
May McLean: "I don't think anybody wants to think too much about that!"
For more on the elderly and home, go to Our Northwest at N-W-P-R dot org.