I shared a story a few months ago about the Sunday evening my mother stood at her kitchen table, my brother sitting to her left, me sitting to her right, her feet planted firmly in the floor's wood. Her 87-year-old fighting spirit told us what we needed to do, not her. She said,
I'm sure you have bad days like I have bad days. When I have a bad day, listen to me.
I'm sure you have days when you complain like I have days when I complain. When I complain, listen to me.
I'm sure you have days when you feel sad like I have days when I feel sad. When I feel sad and cry, listen to me.
I'm sure you have days when you feel down like I have days when I feel down. When I feel down, listen to me.
Today, I share what happened that afternoon before she dug her feet in the ground and spoke her mind. Throughout the 22 years after my dad's death, various people in her life continued to bring up the idea that she would be happier if she moved to a senior living community. I drove my mom around town through neighborhoods built of villas. I toured the retirement community with her that many of her friends had moved to. The number of these adventures exceeds the number of fingers and toes that extend from my body. After every slow drive gazing at villas and following each tour of the community where she always ran into someone she knew claiming the reasons they loved living there, my mother would look at me and say,
Not for me.
So I never pushed her. My mom's friends' and acquaintance's lifestyle choices, although right for them, did not mean it would be the best for her.
However, the idea continued to float through conversations. One of my siblings thought she'd be happier living in this community, thinking it would provide everything she needed and wanted. Thus came this Sunday when I agreed to help him try to move her there to see if she would finally agree or if we could finally lay this topic to rest. On this late April afternoon, my oldest son, husband, and I helped him move things into a room in this place's assisted-living wing. Louis Armstrong was singing What A Wonderful World to me as I pulled in to the parking lot. The trees were swaying bright and green under the clear blue skies. Redbirds chirped from the fresh, bloomed leaves while perfectly formed puff balls of clouds floated by. Spring flowers breathed out their beauty. What a wonderful world it was in the realm of nature. But would this transpire into the heart of my mom's world living in a more confined atmosphere than she was used to, I wondered?
Once we had moved in the furniture my brother picked out, I sat on the sofa with my mom as she sat staring in awe of disbelief. She was unsettled. Her energy was nervous. She had no idea why we were sitting in that room.
What now, I thought?
With a glorious spring show outside, I suggested we walk in and around the building and community. If my mom was expected to stay here, there was work to do to help her adjust, and a walk would be the first step. But there wasn't the slightest bit of movement or a heal hitting the floor to take off. My mom's fighting spirit was glistening in the pot of her own gold as she painted her own rainbow of happily ever after through the words that spilled from her mouth with her response. She looked at my brother and said,
A walk? I don't need to walk around this place. I've seen this place so many times that I don't need to see it again. If you think I'm staying here, in this small room, in this place, you're wrong. If you leave me here, I will walk right out this bedroom door, down the hall, and right out the front door.
She was so on fire with her determination that day. I looked at my brother. He looked at me. And with that, we didn't take a walk. Nor did my mom stay the afternoon, the night, a few nights, or ever! I looked again at my brother. I said,
Up to you, if you want to try and make her stay here with us helping her for several nights and then with her caregivers' help for who knows how long until she adjusts. If she adjusts.
The assisted-living section of this community did not have locked doors, and her threat to walk out the front door was a concern. Knowing my mom well, I wouldn't have put it past her. She did not, in any breath of the idea, want to move out of her home. Mass, friends and all the bells and whistles wouldn't have made her any happier.
I don't need to write here that moving an elder like this is like a death sentence for some. But I am because it does happen. It would have been for my mom. This is why she stood in front of my brother and me later that night at her kitchen table, telling us to just listen to her when she was having emotional days. For my mom, moving would have prematurely been the beginning of the end, and she didn't have to because she had caregivers in her home. (This wasn't easy either but that's a story for another time).
Yes, there are stories where an elder is moved into a community and adjusts just fine after a time. But perhaps these individuals have a spec of desire to move and merely need a gentle push to get there. But not my mother. My mom wasn't going to be pushed. She knew what she wanted, had for twenty-some-odd years, and spoke her innermost desire once and for all. Case closed. That was it. Capisce? She'd ask. Capisco. The end.
The following day after this memorable one, I called Two Men and a Truck to help me move my mom's belongings back into her home. I had a nice little giggle with the movers. Or maybe with myself. It was their first experience moving someone out of a senior community who never actually moved in. Yet I know this isn't the only story like this in this enormous world we live in. Perhaps someone has started an online group for people to share stories about moves that didn't happen. Maybe it is filled with laughter and a few tears, remember whens and look at me nows.
As I watched my mom walk with her tennis ball adorned walker back in her home where the grass was green and her flowers in bloom, I thought, God, bless my mother. God bless women and Italian women at that, set in their passionate and self-knowing ways of living, even when others may not understand or agree with them. Bless movers who help situate the belongings of the elderly to new or back to old living spaces. God bless caregivers who selflessly assist the precious individuals they support. God bless families who work through situations when not everyone may be on the same page. Bless the lives of the elderly, our most excellent teachers, and sources of wisdom. May their deepest wishes to live in a space they consider a wonderful world, be honored, respected, and fulfilled. May their children receive the blessing to listen to them, be patient with them, visit with them, cry with them, and laugh with them even when they are gone.