“You live the closest. How about you call every morning just to make sure she is okay.”
“Am I the ‘she’ you are talking about?” I asked walking in with a tray of appetizers. And then, with a tinge of anger in my voice, “If so, don’t you dare appoint anyone as responsible for checking on me.”
Realizing I had initiated a palpable tension in the room, I offered a feeble laugh. “Guys, I’m not anywhere near there yet. I promise I won’t be the lady crying, ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,’ from the bottom of the cellar steps.”
Throughout dinner, I remained cheerful, happy to have my children, their spouses and my grandchildren enjoying the meal I had made for them. I wanted to remind them that I had shopped, cooked, cleaned the house, and stood on a stepstool to get the good china from the top shelf of the breakfront. All by myself.
That evening, in bed with a magazine, I felt guilty that I had snapped at my children. I’d been living alone since the last of my four children married ten years ago. Why their sudden concern? And why my failure to graciously accept a plan to “make sure Mom was okay.”
I remembered how “difficult” my mother became as she got older. She almost never wore the hearing aids we insisted she needed. How often I stood outside ringing her doorbell, pounding on the door, and calling her phone with no response.
I knew she was home; I could hear the blaring television. I’d resort to walking around the house and banging on one of her living room windows.
When I finally got inside I’d remind her that if she wore her hearing aids she’d not need to blast the television and she might hear the doorbell and the phone.
Her usual response was, “Not a big deal. I must have fallen asleep.”
Although my sister, brother, and I asked Mom to tell one of us where she was going – to lunch with friends, to the mall, to visit her sister – she resisted.
“Want to know when I go to the bathroom or take a shower,” was her mischievous response.
My sister and I tried to ensure her bills were paid each month, organized her medications each week, and wrote reminders for doctors’ appointments and family events on her calendar. All a waste of time. We’d find months of unpaid bills in her pocketbook. Some weeks her pills remained untouched. She never looked at the calendar.
One New Year’s Eve neither my sister nor I could reach her.
“She went to a party at the senior center but that was over right after midnight; I’m going over to her house right now,” my sister said. Fifteen minutes later she reported back, “I’m in her house. She’s not here and neither is her car.”
The mystery was resolved an hour later when Mom pulled into her garage.
“You two ninnies,” she said in reaction to the fears of her daughters. “I was the designated driver. I had to get four other ladies home.
Mom resented our interference in her life. She felt capable of making decisions for herself, and, for the most part, she did fine. But not always. Once, over the phone, she told me that she had fallen while trying to clean a ceiling light fixture. “But I’m okay,” she insisted.
My sister found her sitting stiffly in straight-backed wooden chair, obviously enduring significant pain, and insisting she didn’t need a doctor.
“Just a couple of broken ribs,” she said next day from her hospital bed. “They taped me up. Nothing I couldn’t have done myself.”
Right now, I am mobile and almost as active as ever (must admit that Covid lockdowns set me back a bit). I believe, if my aging is similar to my mother’s, that I will be driving, traveling, working part-time, attending Broadway shows, entertaining, tending a garden, dating (yes! dating) and watching my grandchildren grow up for quite a while to come.
I am not anywhere near ready to compromise my freedom.
However, I will make some concessions in order to spare my children some of the fears my siblings and I faced with our mother.
I will not “go missing” on them. Someone will know where I am, especially during the evenings.
I will keep my cellphone with me as much as possible.
I will trust them to recognize when I really do need hearing aids, an emergency alert pendant, or assisted living arrangement.
I will also trust them to safeguard my dignity and understand my hesitancy to turn over my care to strangers and, (egads) modern technology.
And lastly, I will always tell one of them when I am the “designated driver” for an evening out.