After moving to Indiana and getting into her seventies, Mother began to decline physically. My sister Lindy felt it was time our mother moved closer to us. I was less than thrilled. I no longer lived in the same city as Lindy, having moved north a year before to be with my beloved John. Even though I was going to be hours away, my sister had decided Mother would be better off in the city where Lindy had lived for years . We always supported one another and this time was no exception. I found myself saying:
Okay. Let’s head South to get her.
Before we made the trip, Lindy spent weeks visiting and evaluating senior living apartments. She had finally narrowed it down to two very nice places–one was close to her home and workplace, while the other was a thirty minute drive for her. We arranged for Mother to spend some time looking at each of the options. After doing so, naturally, she chose the one further away from Lindy. It seemed Mother still wanted to inconvenience her daughter as much as possible.
My sister began furnishing the apartment. She bought a wonderful wooden table with two matching chairs. She ordered a new bed and a large dresser with a mirror. For the living room, she purchased a television and had cable installed. She also selected a new recliner and several tables and lamps to round things out. The night before we left for southern Indiana, I stayed at the newly decorated apartment and it was delightful.
On the trip down, we discussed the upcoming move and imagined that Mother would enjoy her new surroundings. My sister and I had tried to make things “just perfect” before we went South to get Mother.
I guess we both had a bit of our mother’s tendency to live in a fantasyland. Once we arrived in Indiana, it seemed like a tornado had plowed through our best-laid plans. Not only had Mother done nothing to prepare for the move that she knew was coming, she had accumulated more clutter than ever before. Her house, her backyard, all over her property was a melange of possessions, trash, and non-perishable food; it almost looked like she had become a doomsday prepper, with supplies laid in to last her through some sort of siege.
The new apartment that awaited her – the one she had reviewed and chosen herself – would never hold all of the various flotsam and jetsam she claimed were “all part of my life.” I worked with her to narrow down what she really needed, while my sister discretely disposed of things that were well past their expiration date or useless due to age and neglect. Then we organized a yard sale. During this, we had a severe thunderstorm, and most of the items were ruined by the rain.
During this time, Mother kept throwing out rather surprising ideas:
I’ll just drive myself to Des Moines later.
which was an odd suggestion as she had no car and no driver’s license.
Then she latched onto another “option”:
After moving back from California, Mother had not kept in touch with anyone from there, returning instead to only communicating with a network of penpals. So we didn’t know who these “old friends” from California were.
Well, I’ve decided I should stay put here and wait to die. I’ve had a good life, considering….
and then she just ominously stared off into the distance.
Finally, while we were having dinner, my sister had a meltdown. She started crying and said:
She left us. Why are we taking her back with us?
I had to give Lindy a dose of reality, which was a bit of role reversal from the norm for my sister and I:
Her house is for sale. We have sold lots of her possessions. You’ve rented her an apartment, paid the deposit and first and last month rent on it, and bought furniture. The ship has already sailed.
This brought another round of crying from Lindy:
She isn’t going to fit in at the senior apartments.
It was a cold, hard fact that Mother never really “fit in” anywhere in her life. And we both knew there was damned little if anything we could do to change her at her age.
So, after a long sob session with my sister where we discussed the realities facing us, we once again steeled ourselves and carried on as best we could.