Yesterday, after four months of angst since she got out of the hospital, Mom moved in to a home for old ladies. Just when you think you are all grown up, along comes a new life lesson. Lesson #35,627: Aging Parent(s).
Three years ago, she moved in with us in Costa Rica. It started out great, such a good idea on paper. By the end of that year, she and I alternated between homicidal and suicidal, fortunately never on the same day. Birds of a feather may flock together, but don’t make them share a kitchen.
Plus living in Costa Rica was not a good fit. Driving in Costa Rica was a nightmare, no knack for Spanish and she missed her baby grandchildren.
So, at 78, she moved back to the states with the clothes on her back and $1,000/month income. That first year was not easy. Not all bad, some lovely adventures, but not easy. Then, last summer, she moved to Kentucky where my siblings and her other grand kids live. Where we live now, as well. Together, again.
Until yesterday, Mom lived in Winchester, where my father was raised, as were the four of us. In an odd twist of fate, she’s been living in the apartment she and dad lived in after they married 60 years ago. Today, mom’s apartment would be considered Funky, perfect for a student or young couple. Affordable with the nicest landlord on the planet (a woman I grew up with), but too big and too drafty for an elderly woman. Hard-to-lift windows, floors that drift this way and that. You know: old.
Mom has wanted to move for awhile, but either she didn’t complain enough (hard to believe from the woman who raised Criticia Voluptua Right-Right, my alter ego), or I was in denial. Looking back, I’m going with denial.
I didn’t want to admit my mother was old and could no longer really care for herself. It’s terribly emotional because, let’s face it, I’m looking at my future. (Bet you thought I was going to say something sweet about my mom, eh? Nah. All about me, as usual.)
If I had faced up to it, I would have had to drastically change my life in order to take care of her. Which, to my credit, I finally did. Of course, there were other forces pushing me back here. If I hadn’t almost died, would I have seen my mother’s situation for what it was? I don’t know. I certainly didn’t before that.
My mother has always been Ms. Independent. Scareless. Married four times to three lovely men (she married my father twice, which tells ya what a charmer he was!) She had unusual jobs, was a gourmet cook, went to Tibet, waved to the Dalai Lama and hiked the Himalayas at 70. Lived in an RV on the beach in Mexico in her 60’s. Was a Life Master many times over. I could go on. The woman is no slouch.
And now she’s an old lady who’s had a difficult three years. She’s tired. She doesn’t want to cook anymore. She wants to live someplace clean, modern, easy. Where someone else does the cooking, shopping, cleaning. I resisted the idea because I thought if she gave up cooking for herself, she would stop being alive in some vital way. My mom cooks. She always has… right up until yesterday.
I wanted mom to move into a HUD-subsidized apartment for $250/month: beautiful, spacious. Unbelievable deal with a two year waiting list. I still want her to apply. Just in case she changes her mind about cooking.
Instead, today she’s living in The Old Ladies Home. That’s one of its former names, almost as good as its 1849 original: Home of the Friendless. Beautiful, huh? It’s now called Ashland Terrace. Yawn. But, hey, it’s been my mother’s home for going on 48 hours and she is THRILLED.
The aging parent puzzle presents one of those life learning experiences where you learn everything about a topic you only need to know once.
Like, I thought Mom’s options were either apartment or nursing home. Turns out, there are levels of care to match independence: apartment (like she was in), then independent living with no care* (like she’s in), then assisted living, then assisted with nursing care, then nursing home with round the clock care.
*”No care” other than you have to perform some task everyday to let the staff know you are still alive. Mom has to appear at meals so they know she is okay. She doesn’t have to eat and she can sign out of any meal, but she has to be in touch at mealtime.
The trickiest puzzle piece for me was to get out of mom’s way and let her make the decisions. It’s still her life. There’s been fear and misunderstanding on both sides. We were afraid the inevitable was nearer than we imagined. Mom was afraid we would make decisions for her she wouldn’t like. It was shocking to me how quickly we were ready to take over, even though being cut out of mom’s will just means you won’t have to participate in the credit card bill. Fortunately, we collectively caught ourselves and backed off.
If anyone is interested in free advice, I have plenty. When you get to Life Lesson #35,627, Easy Does It. Take time until the decision feels right. If we’d (including mom) acted on our first few fear-driven solutions, it would have been a disaster. Face facts, question doctors, trust your inner voice. Mine kept saying, “something doesn’t feel right about this” so I held off making decisions and kept listening. Poco a poco, it sorted itself out. Not from anything we did do, but because of stuff we didn’t.
Independent living with three hots a day, a big room with a bathroom, little fridge, TV and internet. Aluminum windows that glide up and down, level floor, her car parked outside. All for $750/month. The best of all worlds, says Mom. I saw her earlier today. She already looks better than I’ve seen her in sometime. She is relaxing and catching up on sleep. She found a fellow old-lady Democrat which completes her. And the food, it smells so good! I get to eat for free, so you know I’ll be there once a week. At least. Pictures to follow.
P.S. Mom has a big sign on her door that says “Welcome Home, Nancy!” So, yesterday, as we were moving her in, old ladies kept coming up to me and asking, “Are you Nancy?” Like 10 times, this happened. Excuuuuse me, but you have to be at least 65 to get in the joint. What are they, BLIND?