We sat together, visiting, most of the weekend work done, enjoying a moment together, to share in each others lives.
My sister Marilyn retired some years ago and travels with my brother-in-law as he visits customers in his sales territory, covering four western states. He conducts business, while she visits the towns and regions as a tourist. They’re on the road frequently, once, maybe a couple times each month.
These moments at Mom’s with the three of us are an important touchpoint, a moment of continuity for our family.
There are other gatherings, with my sister Sharron, all my nieces and nephews and their kids, but those don’t afford the same opportunity to be as present with each other as these weekend visits with Mom at her place.
There is a necessity that grounds these moments. Ever since her fall accident a year and a half ago, Mom, Marilyn and I, together or separately, arrive at Mom’s apartment to see to the housekeeping, the laundry, change the bedding and linens, make the grocery list, see to the shopping, take out her mail, file any bills or statements that may have arrived that week. For the last several years, we continued to take on more of the daily stuff of living Mom can no longer do herself.
But beyond the necessity of these tasks, the need has provided the unexpected benefit of affording us more time with each other. And our enjoyment of each others company has only grown. These moments we’re afforded have value because we all realize each one is precious. Mom is now six years past the age her cardiologist expected she might see, following the triple bypass when she was 80. “She might get ten more years” he had cautiously speculated. “And we might get into the operating room and find that it’s all horrible.” It wasn’t. We now kid her about having lived beyond the warranty she was given with that operation.
In two’s, or three’s, we meet at her apartment, her balcony overlooking the lake. We talk, we share our lives with each other and we laugh as we recall times past. It happens every week.
I need to be present in Mom’s life for other reasons as well. Since I attend all Mom’s visits to her primary care physician, I need to be there, to look into her eyes, see her demeanor, check on her physical state, have her tell me about her hurts, her symptoms, to know what she has experienced through the course of another week, but also to gauge her state of mind.
We’ve always been open with each other about life, aging and Mom’s end-of-life wishes, which eased the discussion of a time when she might need a living situation where care was available, more frequently than on these weekends when Marilyn and I come to help; medical care, round the clock, closer than a 911 call. Mom has made remarkably few of these call, but they’ve happened. In the beginning, these discussions were vague and infrequent; even after her recovery from her fall, a recovery more complete than I ever would have expected for someone then age 94, Mom would refer to it distantly as “someday”.
Every week, I’ve asked the same two questions: Are you still comfortable living here on your own on your own? Do you feel safe? Each week, we weigh her answers against the alternatives. And, so far, every week we’ve made the decision to continue.
Most of the weekend work done, we sat together, visiting, catching up on Marilyn’s travels, the lives of Mom’s grandkids and great-grandkids, our out-of-state relatives, who wrote, who called, which of her friends she saw that week, the events of their lives, the weather, and each of our upcoming plans.
At some point in this otherwise benign conversation, Mom suddenly said “When are we going to move me to assisted living?” We nearly fell out of our chairs.
In an eye-blink, “someday” was replaced with “when?” It stuck. Rather than retreat from the issue, Mom continued to speak of it, often; always during each weekend visit. When her MD asked her last Tuesday how she felt about moving, there wasn’t a moments hesitation: “I’m ready!”
In anticipation of this turning point in her perspective, I started visiting assisted living apartments about a year ago, meeting the reps, touring the buildings, asking questions. I’d bring brochures to Mom, sample menus from the dining rooms, sample activity calendars, rate sheets, the lot, along with my impressions of what I’d seen. Using her own apt, I’d stand in her space, waving my arms around, pointing at the air to depict for her imagination what I’d seen in each building.
With her declaration of “ready”, appointments were made and the three of us piled into the car, so Mom could see them for herself.
There had been several places she favored, places where friends had lived, long before the time in which she ever would have considered it for herself. By the time we got in the car, we’d reduced the list of potential options to two.
Following the second tour, we needed to stop by the lab for her blood draw. As we quietly and slowly walked from the clinic entrance to the lab, she spoke: “Before today, I’d always thought I’d end up at The Norse Home (the Scandinavian connection to her own heritage) but after seeing Anderson House, I really like it.”
For the second time, I almost fell over. Inside of an hour of finishing the second tour, she’d come to a decision, a decision reached on her own, without influence from Marilyn, me or anyone else.
In fact, she has come to this decision regarding the next stage in her life entirely on her own, in her own way and in her own time. Sure, we’ve provided the resources, the information, the research. But in less than an hour, Mom had done the rest. On her own.
At the end of the day, Marilyn and I just beamed. We could not have imagined a better outcome. I called Jill at Anderson House as soon as I arrived home, and started the business process to secure apt #228 for Mom. I expect to have a deal signed very early next week.