This is part I of a three-part series about senior support and caring for a parent
I pulled up to the adult care home where my 85-year old mom lives to take her out for the weekend and spend some time together. We don’t live in the same state for a variety of reasons that center mostly around California’s abhorrent lack of support for low-income seniors and the people who care for them. But I decided to put these political conversations away for a weekend as I walked into her building, turned the corner down the hall to her room, and opened her door…and what I saw was a punch in the gut that started a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows.
I entered my mom’s room and immediately remembered that this woman opened her heart and her home to me 42 years ago when the mother who brought me into this world couldn’t care for me. But I also entered her room and was emotionally floored as I saw my frail, gaunt mom who seemed to have aged by several years since the last time I saw her. She had a warm but slightly bewildered expression in her eyes that both hugged and hurt my soul in the same moment. My mom is a woman with enough love in her heart for five of her own children, over 100 of other people’s children, and seemingly any random straggler who showed up. But in this moment I could see the first of many important changes in her – a long, slow, deeply painful process that in that moment really just struck me.
We hugged, I gave her a kiss on the cheek, and then a scene reminiscent of new parents preparing for an outing with a new baby erupted as we got ready to leave. No, seriously. There were bags of disposable undergarments and clothes and locating ID and health insurance cards and deciding on which coloring books and crosswords to bring and re-checking and re-packing and grabbing the walker and the wheelchair and fitting them in my sedan and the sitting cushion to protect a bed sore on her backside and so many other small things to manage all before we left her facility. There was the medication conversation with her caregiver and the pillbox and understanding which pills need to be taken when and how to use the blood pressure cuff to decide whether she gets a certain pill and writing down whether the pill is administered if the systolic pressure is above or below 100 and remembering what systolic and diastolic mean. It was incredibly overwhelming.
Then we got on the road and we got to just be for awhile.
At 85, my mom has lived a long life since her humble beginnings in a small home in Milan (pronounced My-lin), Michigan. Her memory is pretty good for things that happened a very long time ago, but she remembers less and less about our life together the older she gets. She never forgets that she loves me – which is quite simply the best gift any parent can give any child, ever. It is the love and compassion that we should encourage in our foster care system – making it easier for people who have space in their hearts to do this work. We rode down the state highway and she shared how her earliest memory was of wanting to be a nurse, which her grandmother had been. She remembered being a bit spoiled – which in her home was about attention more than material possessions. We talked about what she’d want to do while we were together and about how she was doing. She was married for 38 years but the only dad I’ve ever known died from his third bout with cancer over 20 years ago so she’s adjusted to the loneliness of reframing what her life means and what occupies her thoughts.
We were set for a weekend full of moments that I felt in my bones in a way I think only those who have cared for an aging loved one may be able to fully appreciate. We drove peacefully and happily down the rural stretch of I-10 towards Tucson and I didn’t fully grasp at the moment what I was in for.