After my Dad died and Mom decided to move to a senior living complex, we met to go through her things and determine what she would take to her apartment. Mom and Dad had enjoyed an idyllic retirement in their Anaheim Hills townhouse, but after 20 years it was time to move on to the next phase of Mom’s life.
Downsizing involved dividing some family heirlooms, deciding what could be donated or sold, and relegating some things to the trash. It was such a painful process that at the end of the day we collapsed in the garage and cried together.
Recently Mom celebrated her 89th birthday and, realizing she was unsteady on her feet, added her name to the waiting list for an apartment in the assisted-living wing of her complex. I was impressed that she took this step on her own after five years living independently.
During the long isolation enforced by the pandemic, Mom grew depressed and lost a significant amount of weight. When I saw her in person for the first time in months, I was shocked at her frailty.
So, even before we could set the wheels in motion for another move, Mom was rushed to the hospital with complications from congestive heart failure. Thankfully, she was transferred to the skilled-nursing wing of her facility after a week, and she remains there recovering steadily.
Wouldn’t you know that the perfect studio apartment would become available when Mom is unable to help prepare for the transition?
That leaves me – her only child – to pack up her things.
I’ve been in and out of her apartment over the past three weeks, going through her things, downsizing, and packing boxes. When the new unit is available, the complex will send a crew to move the few furnishings that will fit into the new apartment. The rest of her things will need to be divided among family members, donated to charity, or trashed.
Making decisions about what to leave behind is a lonely job. But it’s one that I’m growing to appreciate since I’m learning more about my dear mother as I go through the process.
Mom is a sweet lady who grew up in the Great Depression, so she keeps everything from plastic grocery store bags to promotional totes carefully folded and stored away. Her drawers, cabinets, and closets are meticulously organized. Clothing hangs neatly in the closet, organized by size, purpose, and color. Paperwork and financial information is clearly marked and filed in a tall cabinet. She makes my housekeeping look positively chaotic.
I love my mother and admire her strength, good humor, and positive attitude – especially as she acknowledges that age is limiting her abilities. I know how blessed I am to have my mother still with me as I near retirement age myself.
These days, I pray for patience and strength and resilience. I’m comforted by the obvious joy my parents had in each other and their international travels, friends, and especially their three grandchildren, who are now young adults.
Facing the inevitable loss of a dear one always is painful. I treasure each day I have with Mom. I pray I will face my mortality with just a little of her grace.
***I wrote the above story earlier this month. Now that Mom’s move is complete, we are dealing with the aftermath of COVID-19 – brain fog, depression, frustration, and sadness. The continuing isolation Mom faces makes everything worse.
Mom got through the move OK but the new surroundings and the discovery that she is still very weak and requires a lot of assistance upsets her.
Between our family members, some of Mom’s longtime friends, and a team of caregivers, nurses, therapists, and the chaplain, we are addressing her new reality.
I wish I could say that it was easy or that each day I see improvement, but recovery isn’t simple and doesn’t occur in a straight line. Mom feels stronger since October, when she was first hospitalized with congestive heart failure, but she is always frustrated that she can’t do more to help herself.
I am learning the hard way that love is more than a bouquet of flowers or a nicely worded greeting card. Love gets in the trenches and is sweaty and sore with labor.
As St. Valentine’s Day approaches, I find myself often tired and short-tempered, but I know too that I am blessed to have Mom still with us. More than anything, I wish I could sit with her, hold her hand, and tell her that we love her.
She knows that. Separation is hard on all of us. I know she appreciates the FaceTime calls we do every Sunday. I’ll keep calling her and continue to do my caregiving from a distance, and I will lean on my family members during this difficult time.
We are in it for the long haul, and love is paving the way.