Move-in day is finally upon us. After months of preparing, shopping, and deciding what could fit into such small quarters; we are finally here. The day is stress filled. She’s brought more than the space could handle and she refuses to part with anything. She is inflexible and, in return, I am snippy. We both are thinking, “Did we make the right choice?” She thinks, “Am I going to like it here?” I think, “Will she fit in and make friends?”
After squishing all her “must haves” into tight quarters, we walk to dinner in the dining room. We find a table with two empty seats and sit down. I begin to make conversation with her peers. She speaks very little. Soon, the others at the table move on to other conversations and seem to forget that we are here, that she is here. I began to panic.
I feel even worse when it is time to say good-bye. She looks at me with terror in her eyes. I think, not for the first time today, that this move is a big mistake.
I am on edge most of the next week worrying about her. I had thought, erroneously, that once I had launched my last child into the world, the years of worrying about my loved ones’ every move were behind me. Boy was I wrong. I find myself waiting with baited breath for news. When I don’t hear from her I try to support myself thinking no news is usually good news, right? She never remembered to call me when things were going well before. When she does call me she is overwhelmed and lonely. She calls after having a hard time finding people to eat with or when she is having difficulty participating in activities due to her severe hearing loss. These calls are very painful for me. I stop to remind myself that this is a huge transition, that it will take time for her to settle in. I tell myself that this is her transition. I shouldn’t, and can’t, swoop in to make it better.
It has been two years since I moved my 87 year old mother from New York City to an independent living community near me in Massachusetts. In retrospect, the process was not much different than dropping off each of my three daughters for their freshman year at college. Yet, in spite of the obvious similarities, this particular transition was harder for me. Perhaps it is because I recognized that my daughters were beginning an exciting new stage of their lives, filled with endless possibilities. In my mom’s case, I could only see what she was losing; her friends and family who had died, her career, her hearing, and the familiarity of a city that had been her home for 85 years.
I learned a hard lesson. Had I looked at this transition in the same way I viewed the changes in my daughters’ lives, I would have saved myself a lot of heartache. In fact, this was the beginning of an exciting new stage for my mother as well. Two years later, she has created a full life. She has made new friends and spends time with them regularly. Thanks to meals prepared for her and the other residents, and the fact that she eats them in the company of her peers she has gained needed weight, she is healthier. She takes courses, plays bridge, exercises regularly and participates in book groups. She has mastered her new iPhone and texts us regularly. She also wears all the clothes and jewelry that I yelled at her for bringing that first day. She now has a place to wear them.
There is much that I can take away from this experience. Here is a bit of what I learned. First, old age can be a fulfilling stage of our lives. Second, if you focus on what is lost, that is all that you will see. If you look at what life throws you as a doorway to new opportunities, the possibilities will be endless.
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