Keren David

I’m so glad Dad agreed to move into a care home

My 95-year-old father was adamant he would not go into a home — but Hammerson House gave him, and us, so much


Hammerson House

April 25, 2024 09:04

My father was determined that he was not going to go into a care home. And certainly not a care home in London. Or a Jewish one. “I’ve never lived with Jewish people and I’m not going to start now,” he told me, rather bafflingly considering his Jewish wife and children, his stint in Finchley as a young man, and the undeniable fact that he was one of the most Jewish people imaginable, bringing Jews and Judaism into every conversation he could.

Instead, newly widowed at 94, he insisted on staying alone in his house in Welwyn Garden City, supported by carers, neighbours and the wonderful local Jewish community, which combined into a pretty amazing support system. But that still left a lot of hours alone, and there were dramas, some involving dashes to the not-very-local hospital. I once had to dispatch friends (thank you!)  at 1am on a snowy night to save him when his recliner tipped too far the wrong way. So he decided to sell up (“I think you’ll find it sells very quickly, probably to a Chinese diplomat”) and move somewhere slightly smaller but very local, ideally a different house in the same street. We started looking at hopelessly unsuitable rip-off retirement flats.

Luckily my sister is made of sterner stuff than my brother and I and on a flying visit from Israel, managed to tour three care homes. Jewish ones. In London. And she persuaded Dad to give them a try. After all, the house, as he predicted, sold ten minutes after going on the market, although not to a Chinese diplomat, somewhat to his disappointment. He had to go somewhere.

And that is how Dad – who died last month, just a few days short of 96 – ended up in Hammerson House, a care home which so outshone his expectations that he agreed to be videoed telling people how great it was. Sadly he didn’t get a chance to do that, so let me do it instead.

The home is located in The Bishop’s Avenue, which amused Dad a lot. It has more of a feel of a boutique hotel than a traditional care home. Its light, bright foyer buzzes with families at the weekend.

He loved the garden and spotted birds, foxes and squirrels from his room. He’d sit on the veranda on summer days and soak up the sunshine. His mobility problems meant he hadn’t been able to go to shul for ages but at Hammerson he could attend services, Shabbat and yom tov. They weren’t quite what he was used to (my family loved them, quick and no standing up) but he much appreciated the work of the home’s spiritual leaders. He had visits from a trainee rabbi – he was intrigued that she was a woman, not having come across female rabbis before – and enjoyed long talks with her. The thought of this old, traditionally Orthodox man possibly affecting her future work gives me much pleasure.

The care at Hammerson was truly excellent, delivered by people who are gentle and kind, and who make time to befriend the residents. Dad proudly showed off a sketch of himself made by one careworker who is also a talented artist. He loved his sessions with the physiotherapists, and would boast about going to the “gym”. He was encouraged by the engagement team to write poetry. Watching someone starting something new at 95 is quite inspiring and we’re very proud of his one collection of poems.

Most joyful of all, he made wonderful new friends at Hammerson and enjoyed socialising at meals and taking part in the programme of activities, from indoor bowls to a men’s discussion group (“We all agree that the country’s going to the dogs”).

 After a month in and out of hospital in December, he said firmly that he was not going to do that again. Hammerson supported him in that decision and made sure that his last few weeks were as positive as the months before them. He enjoyed his friend Rita’s 101st birthday party. He treated us to a meal at Hammerson’s café – nine of us around the table – and glowed with patriarchal satisfaction when he put it on his bill. And the home arranged for him to be interviewed by the Stories for Life charity, so we have an audio tape of him talking about his life for an hour. The interviewer managed to ask questions we’d never thought of.

We couldn’t be more grateful, and we’re all missing our visits to a beautiful home which took so much worry from our shoulders. We miss Dad terribly but we’re comforted by knowing that his final months were as happy as they could be. “It’s a good place,” he’d say. “I think you should put your name down. Sooner rather than later.”​

April 25, 2024 09:04

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