Another guest blog tonight from my friend Jackie–I can certainly relate and I know many of you can too!
My Mother turns 90 next month. She is selling her house of 28 years and moving in with us. It’s official: I am a grown-up.
Time is a funny thing. I remember I couldn’t wait to grow older when I was young. It seemed forever to reach that 16th milestone; then 21, then 30 and OMG I was 40. Officially OLD. My eldest son is 35 and honestly and I can actually remember being 35 and yet here I am at 61 taking on the role of care-giver and life-manager for my mother. I raised 4 kids with an alcoholic husband, got through a miserable divorce, survived the deaths of my father and sister, but I never felt like a grown-up until now. It’s a little scary.
In conversations with my peers I discovered we are all going through this challenge together; what to do when your parents are not capable of living independently but don’t want to go to “one of those places”. I researched a lovely retirement community near us a few years ago and told my mother all about it. She was quiet, and refused to come visit us for almost a year, fearful we would surprise her by leaving her there and abandoning her. Of course this was never our intention; we thought that living in a high rise condo community with chef-prepared meals everyday, an on site beauty shop and library, shuttle service for shopping ~and even a town car chauffeur on duty daily~ would be lovely! I wanted to go live there myself! But she shut down any conversations about this idea and insisted she was fine in her big two story home – alone – and lonely.
In a tough conversation three years ago I explained to her that I had given up on trying to re-locate her nearer to us. Although we are only a three hour drive away, that is a long stretch in an emergency. She agreed “in principle” that living so far away wasn’t a good thing, but she just couldn’t bring herself to part with her home and all her things. I explained to her that I wanted to help move her closer but without some cooperation on her part it was just too hard. She promised to try and at least start sorting through her house and throwing things away in preparation for the “someday move that she didn’t want to make”. I asked her to begin with the magazines. There were 500 magazines from 25 years of saving neatly stacked in piles in her family room cabinet. The next time I visited I checked and the magazines were still there. We had a long way to go.
Last year as we grieved the loss of my sister, her perspective shifted. She was ready to be closer to us; her being alone was becoming more difficult and she realized I couldn’t hop into a car and drive long distance just to help her to a doctor’s appointment. Oh – and she was still driving. Last year when she turned 89 her Driver’s License needed renewal. “AHA” I thought – when we go to the Department of Public Safety office they will surely make her take a test or maybe do a refresher driving exam. And then she couldn’t live alone and she would have to move. Nope. She filled out the one page form and checked “no” to all the pertinent boxes – she had not had a stroke, or was disabled, or had a chronic illness that made her unable to perform driving tasks. When I saw the box “Are you Hearing impaired?” I jumped up and asked the clerk if being deaf in one ear was an issue. Her response “Can she hear a officer if he stopped her vehicle and spoke to her?” Mom answered “Oh yes last year when I forgot my new Vehicle registration sticker a nice officer pulled me over to tell me and I heard every word.” She paid her $7 and got a new photo taken and we were finished. I asked the clerk when this license would expire and she answered “When she is 96.” I asked if there would be any tests or refresher driving exams and she nodded, sadly, “no”. Fast forward to now and we have all agreed that it’s time to turn in the keys. Whew.
The choices had become more complicated since a few years back when I thought the condo life was the answer; she was no longer a candidate for an active retirement community and certainly not ready for an assisted living situation. She still enjoys puttering outside in her garden and managing her meals and laundry – so what was the solution? As I thought about it I reflected back to 1986 when my parents built their dream home and included a suite so my then-90 year old grandmother could permanently live with them. I guess the cycle has come full circle as my husband and I are now planning our dream house but with one significant addition – a small cottage on the property so that she may live near us and with us as she needs and I will be close to help out when that time comes. She’ll have a bright and shiny new place to live just steps away from us, and if she needs care, there is an extra bedroom.
And so the clean-out of her home began. I started with ( guess what) those magazines. Mom kept trying to save them back – I kept throwing them in sacks. We finally agreed if we took them to the Library they could be enjoyed by many people and we didn’t have to move them. Over the past months several more trips to her home for clean out sessions followed and before long the house was show-ready. It sold in 8 days after 4 different offers. The sale will be final in early May and the serious packing has begun. Mom told me recently that she really can’t believe she is going to be 90 soon. She still feels in her mind that she is younger; where have the decades gone? Perhaps it’s a myth that you are supposed to feel your “real” age. Whatever the case, I am embracing this challenge and look forward to having Mom closer. I know it will not always be easy but that’s okay. It will be a privilege to make her final years happy and safe. On those really hard days I will remember what my daughter said to me recently “Ya know Mom, when you are old we will be taking care of you”. So perhaps the bigger lesson here is that family is family, and sometimes that’s all that matters. I can do this. And after all, I AM a grown-up now.