We all knew the day was coming – it was just a matter of time and that time came when mom no longer felt safe in the home she and dad had shared for over 40 years. Dad had died very suddenly two weeks after celebrating his 70th birthday, making mom a widow at the age of 65. Even with the support of her neighbors and having me and my siblings close at hand, it became very difficult for mom to live alone. The depression and anxiety that plagued her for the next few years was difficult for us to understand and cope with. A family meeting was called and decisions were made that would mean the beginning of a new life for mom and certainly for me too.
The big move came after putting her home up for sale and trying to accommodate all the furniture and possessions into my much smaller place that was also home to my two teenage daughters. I felt the hard work was done. What followed was a combination of an education in learning to live with someone who still had a need to reign over a household and discovering the importance of letting go of the truly unimportant things in life. The real challenges of the next 20 years proved to be an experience in what I often refer to as the bittersweet days of caregiving.
It was bittersweet because mom was still in good health and able to do most everything for herself, she also had a great need to be useful. Consequently I learned quickly to either accept the inevitable by welcoming moms' way of managing the home or prepare for a constant battleground. Although it wasn’t easy, and things sometimes became territorial, especially when it came to our very different tastes in decorating, nonetheless, for 20 years we managed together. I will always cherish the memories I have of mom living in my home, especially as we watched my daughters grow up, marry and begin their own families. But I believe we both learned the divide between using painted landscapes or family portraits on the walls became less important and caring for each other took precedence.
Mom was in her late eighties when after holding another family meeting it was decided it was best if she moved in with my recently retired and widowed older brother. I’ve always admired my mother’s resiliency, but never more than when she practically jumped at the chance to move in with him because he needed her much more than I did. Although at times I do feel a bit guilty that I seemed to have gotten the best years of mom and he has the burden of the latter years, but at 91 mom is unyielding at giving up her work – still cooking, cleaning and yes – decorating. After all – this has always provided a purpose in her life.
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Stay tuned for more of “Chronicles of Caring for My Elderly Mom” coming soon.