© 2017 by Mary Hiland
Making the decision to move an elderly parent into assisted living against his or her will presents myriad challenges. Like many adult children who want to respect their parents' wishes, I didn't take action until it was unavoidable. But unlike most adult children, I had to deal with this crisis as an only living child who is totally blind. The logistics alone were merely the start of my uphill struggle with this daunting task.
During the last two years of my mother's life, I learned many lessons about dementia and Alzheimer's disease, and she learned to accept the difficulties of being in her late nineties and living in an assisted living community.
In The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: A Daughter's Memoir, I not only describe the move, my mother's adjustment to a foreign way of life, and the emotional trauma for both of us, but also offer some advice and comfort for others who are experiencing such dramatic changes.
What makes my story unusual is that I tell it with blindness always in the background. You will find some touching moments, some troubling ones, and some that are relevant to your own life.
This is a memoir woven through my observations of who my mother was and who I am.
Mary Hiland, a native of Cincinnati, lives in Gahanna, Ohio with her Seeing Eye® dog, Dora. She is a graduate of the Ohio State University with a B.S. degree in Social Work. She recently retired as Executive Director of The American Council of the Blind of Ohio. Before that, she served for over 21 years as Director of Volunteers for VOICEcorps Reading Service: https://www.voicecorps.org/
Ms. Hiland has been published in Chicken Soup for the Parent's Soul, Redbook magazine, Toastmaster magazine, and The Columbus Dispatch.
Visit her blog at https://seeingitmyway.com/
In 2001, Ms. Hiland carried the Olympic torch, and in 2015, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from her local Toastmasters Club.
Ms. Hiland has two adult children and five granddaughters. Her passions are reading, public speaking, cycling, cross-country skiing, swimming, hiking, and taking long walks with Dora. She writes for the pure pleasure of it.
As an only child for most of her life, she benefited from the single-minded love and devotion of her parents. So when her mother, who was in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and was going blind and deaf, needed to give up her independence and move into assisted living, it was time for Ms. Hiland to step up and assume the duties and role reversals required for her mother. She wrote about her experiences with the hope of being helpful to others in this tough place in life. The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: A Daughter's Memoir is her first book.
From Aunt Erma's Cope Book to the Zero Waste Home, our bookshelves are bulging with guides enabling us to improve our bodies, our brains and our bank accounts. For 70 million Baby Boomers, however, the good news of longer lives for all in the 21st century presents a crying need for yet another guidebook: How do we, as older Americans ourselves, settle our even-older parents into assisted living with as much grace and as little disruption as possible.
Mary Hiland has written that guide. She has written it with a blend of tenderness and pragmatism that will touch your heart whether you have a 95-year-old parent or not. She has shared with us her glorious successes as well as minor mistakes, thus outlining for us a road map, both lovely and accurate, for going through the process of parenting our parents ourselves.
Like any gifted travel guide, she sometimes augments our trip by adding alternate paths, providing glimpses of earlier times and additional facets from her own or her mother's history. Mary Hiland is blind and, while she includes plenty of information about her personal experience of blindness, that is not what sets this book apart.
Here is why you should read this book.
Read it for Mary Hiland's reflective journal entries. Read it to observe her gentle orchestration and brilliant formation of her mother's transition from independent to assisted living. And read it for a shining example of how family members sometimes truly cherish one another.
Award-winning author, editor, and poet
Senior features editor, AccessWorld
Columnist, The Columbus Dispatch
Technology trainer, National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program
Mary Hiland's pleasant, conversational style draws the reader right in; the story she tells is the common and wrenching experience of helping an aged parent move to assisted living, but from an unusual perspective, as she herself is blind. The frustrations and rewards of the situation are portrayed honestly and tenderly.
Willene S. Hardy, Ph.D.
I was totally engrossed in this book from start to finish. With insight and humor, the author perfectly relates her experience with her mother as 'Mom' transitions from independent living to assisted living and from being a functional 94-year-old to a totally dependent 98-year-old with dementia. Ms. Hiland adeptly describes her changing relationships with her mother as well as with the facility staff. Whether the reader is blind like the author or not, so many of us can relate to this experience, as it's something we have already gone through or that we worry might happen to us and our parents in the future. The author has a special ability to paint scenes that are both so real and poignant with her words. All professional caregivers in any discipline — in fact, all adult children — should read this compelling book. We all can learn from the author's words.
Independent Living Consultant
Most of us have faced, or will face, the problems of dealing with an aging parent, but Mary Hiland did it blind. Her book The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living captures the frustration, rewards, and incredible complications of the ordeal with feeling and humor. I was impressed that Mary handled it so well — and thankful that she tells us about it so vividly!
Author of 'Nada and Easy Death
Mary Hiland weaves anecdotes with didactic information in learning to recognize her mother's symptoms of dementia. She details how the cognitive changes affect family dynamics in her delightful book, The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living: A Daughter's Memoir. Her fierce honesty educates how to navigate practical and personal challenges, including the actual cost of assisted living vs. the advertised costs, how to advocate for your loved one, and ways to cope with the frustrations and grief involved in role reversals, as parent becomes child. She infuses humor and journal entries to highlight the "road" with universal appeal and her insights as a blind daughter. As a psychologist who counsels caregivers, I see this book as a welcome companion, normalizing feeling involved in the process. The book can be read in one sitting or digested a chapter at a time, spiced as it is with tenderness, pathos, lightness, helpful hints, and tasty-sounding recipes.
Cheryl F. Meisterman, Ph.D., L.I.S.W.-S
Psychologist, Licensed Independent Social Worker-Supervisor
Mary Hiland brings us on a journey many of us will experience, and none will enjoy. She takes us through her odyssey with heart, humor, and wit, imparting her wisdom along the way. Her work should be required reading for any son or daughter.
Eric M. Ralph
Author of And God Said...An Absurd Tale of Love, Power, and Paperwork
Mary Hiland captures the emotional roller coaster of a changing relationship with an aging mother. The book is an honest and realistic look at what is involved in planning for transition to assisted living.
Although Mary's blindness creates problems in her seeing what was going on with her mother's decline, as a social worker, I have witnessed many sighted people also unable to grasp these changes in a parent. We may emotionally deny changes because we expect our parents to function as competently as they always have.
Mary tackles these sensitive issues while preserving dignity and respect for her mother. Her stories also reflect her shared memories and her mother's legacy, and demonstrate how each of us internalizes traits from our parents.
I believe her lessons learned will be helpful to anyone who reads this book.
Mary C. Kozy, MSW
Retired Clinical Social Worker
This book offers profound insights into managing the difficult years with an aging parent as it shares the emotional roller coaster of blessings and challenges in a mother/daughter relationship. The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living provides useful guidelines for readers anticipating that journey, yet it also tells a story of a proud woman who raised an independent, strong daughter. Mary Hiland won't let blindness hinder her commitment to making her mother's final years peaceful and meaningful. We should all have a daughter like her.
Language Arts Instructor
This touching collection of memories, journal entries, and insights is a must-read for anyone with aging friends or loved ones. Mary Hiland does a masterful job of explaining the challenges of helping someone through the final chapters of life. She shares her story with grace and humor, citing frustrations, lessons learned, and moments of joy and reverence gleaned from otherwise difficult situations. Ms. Hiland offers a unique perspective, being visually impaired, but, in general, she highlights the qualities that should be essential to being human—love, compassion, and mutual respect.
Cathryn K. Thompson
Teacher, Toastmaster, and author of Once in Love with Lily and Always in Love with Lily