Taking a walk with my 88-year-old mum is a rather slow process these days. There’s the walker, or the two walking sticks, and my arm for support. Yesterday she was having trouble with her eyes, so there’s the inevitable conversation about the damn glasses that keep slipping off her nose, or wearing the distance glasses vs. the reading glasses, or the sunglasses that are too dark, or the “when are we going to see the eye doctor”? question for the 26th time.
So, I answer. Again. And again. And when she’s is one of those frustrated places I try to distract her with the flowers along the pavement, or the blue sky, or “What kind of tree do you think that is?” Then we get in the car to wherever we are going, I turn the radio on to her favorite classical music station, and all is well.
But allow me to back track a bit. Up until about 8 months ago, my mum was a fairly independent woman. She lived with her husband of 35 years in a flat in a small English village, and with the nearby support of her wonderful stepchildren she and Graham managed along. Until she had a fall, and he fell ill, which led to a series of hospital and nursing home stays for both of them. In September, I went back to help settle them both in back in their flat with the help of 24 hour in-home care. Sadly, Graham’s illness soon took a serious turn for the worse, and just over a month ago, he passed away and I brought mum back to California to live. My husband and I had always imagined she would eventually live at home with us, but after much soul searching, we realized that her condition was too frail, and that she needed too much care, for that to work as we are both busy working and out of the house a lot. So I found her a sweet little care home, 20 minutes drive away, where she is safe and cared for.
The past 2 weeks since we have been back has been a process of helping her to settle in and adjust to the enormous changes –the loss of her husband, missing her step children and grandchildren, going from her own home to a strange new home, from a quiet English village to a busy California city.
So I remember all this when I have my impatient moments. And I take my hat off to her for her courage to make such a big change at this point in her life. For her love for her children, and grandchildren and great grand daughters that pulled her away from all that is familiar to start a new chapter of her life at age 88.
So we are learning the balance, between her needs and ours. I call her every morning, visit her most afternoons, bring her over for lunch, or tea or dinner. She joins us for family outings, and our dinner parties where she joins in the dinner table conversations with our friends. This weekend, she celebrated my birthday with us at the beach. We rolled her in her wheelchair down the boardwalk, and she hummed a childhood song, and practiced her rhumba and waltz steps holding on to the wooden rails, and soaked in the warm California sunshine. She used to be the belle of the ball, my mum, back in the day in Guatemala at the Goodyear company parties – but that’s another story.
And so, we are learning a new dance, she and I. The mother- daughter two step, the role reversal that has taken place, where I lead and she follows… or so it seems. But really, I realize, my job is to attune to her rhythm, to support her where she wants to go, to help her find her own song again, her own place in the midst of our crazy family tribe, and to realize how blessed I am to share this end phase of her life journey with her.