Last Wednesday Todd from the Lester Senior Housing facility called my mother to say that a two bedroom apartment had become available and did she want it? She immediately called me to say that I should call Todd to find out what he wanted.
“Mom”, I said, “You know what he wants. He wants to know if you want to move into the complex.”
“Just call him. I couldn’t talk to him.”
We have been on the waiting list a this lovely independent living apartment house for almost a year. We were told that they never know when an apartment would be available until the last minute. This means that when someone dies they find someone on the list to take their place. I called Todd and asked how fast we had to make up our minds. “Immediately!” He was adamant about that. “I have 90 people on the list and I’ve been making calls all day, but your mother is at the top so you get first crack.”
“That presents a bit of a problem”, I said. You see my mother’s phones are bad. It must have been the rain. So I can’t really discuss anything with her until I see her on Friday. Can you wait that long?”
“I’ll try, ”he answered. “But so many people want to be here I can’t make any guarantees.”
What I didn’t say was that I couldn’t talk to my mother because she wouldn’t put on her God Damn hearing aide. I didn’t want him to know that she was as deaf as she is stubborn. I called her back and said that I would be there on Friday and we could discuss it. She said,
“There’s nothing to discuss.” And hung up.
Neither my mother nor any of her sisters ever said goodbye before they hung up so this was not unusual. But I was curious about what there wasn’t to discuss. I called back.
“Okay mom” I said trying not to seem too interested, “What aren’t we going to discuss and why?”
“Nothing, I’m not going anywhere.” She hung up again.
There is hardly a baby boomer alive who is not dealing with parent problems. ( Those involving mothers and daughters are particularly complex). It’s a new phenomenon because our grandparents died before they got old enough to make our parents miserable. But thanks to the wonder of new drugs and advanced technologies, our parents are alive and well… around. There are those of us have to deal with parents who are sick, have Alzheimer’s, are disabled, or just fragile. Some of our parents are well enough to be independent but not alone. A few of us chose to be older parents so we’re sandwiched between demands from our children and their grandparents. Each requiring inordinate attention, emotional dependence and financial resources. The situations are endless and vary, and Like Vietnam , they unite us as a generation, and are universally not good.
My mother had seven sisters and a brother. Only her twin is still alive. They will be 86 in October. When their parents got old and sick there were eight siblings to pitch in and make sure the quality of my grandparents last years were wonderful. In addition, when my aunts and uncles got old and sick they all took care of one another. No one ever went to any kind of an institution. That would have been as embarrassing and as unacceptable as eating in a restaurant on Thanksgiving. It just wasn’t done in our family. My mother has the same expectations but there is no one left to do everything she wants done. It wouldn’t matter. No matter how much is done, it is never enough.
When we arrived at her house on Friday, (I took David because he always takes off the edge), she was about to go to the beauty parlor. She does that every Friday no matter what the weather or her health. She has made some remarkable recoveries when her hair needed work. David and I did errands and waited until she got back to have the conversation about her living arrangements. It went something like this:
MOM: I am not going to Lester, it’s so far no one will come and see me.”
ME: It’s 4 miles from this house. Anyone who comes here will come there.”
MOM: No one comes now.
ME: Yes they do. You have neighbors and friends and Rosalie (a cousin).
MOM: I think I want to be in Boston.
ME: Why Boston? Aunt Peppy says that’s where she wants to go. (Peppy is her twin and she’s not going anywhere soon.)
MOM: Besides, I have people there. Sheila (a cousin), Seth (my son) and Jordan.
ME: Seth works, Sheila works, and Jordan is only there for two more years.
MOM: It doesn’t matter. I probably won’t live that long. I feel myself fading everyday. (Oh pleeeeease!)
You may not believe it’s possible but the dialogue degenerated from there. How can you have a positive conversation with anyone for whom everything is negative? In frustration I finally said, “Okay mom, you are capable of making your own decisions now, but if you choose not to do that, then when you aren’t capable, I will make decisions for you and you may not like the choices. Of course, she immediately assumed I would put her away in one of those store houses for the elderly. Aside from always thinking the worse she has never had any confidence in my judgment. We left without having resolved anything.
She called about ten minutes after we got back to NY. You may remember, from previous blobs, that my mother has had four companions in three months. Her latest, Prudence, is smart, caring loving and kind and will do whatever my mother asks.
“Prudence and I took a ride uptown to Victoria Mews. It was lovely.”
“Mom” I was aghast, “Pam and I went to look at Victoria Mews about a year ago and it’s an old age home for church going blue haired ladies. No one owns designer, yet alone discount designer.” (This was my way of saying there were no Jews.) “Why would you consider a very expensive old age home for Christians rather than Lester, where every person is your age and religion.”
“They have nice activities.”
“You do what you want,” I said short of screaming. “Let me know where you are and I’ll visit.”
The final conversation came fifteen minutes later when she called to say that she had phoned Lester Senior to see if she could look at their apartment. But I was neither happy nor satisfied. It’s been years of angst and ongoing bull doody. I don't want her to die, and she refuses to participate in having a life. But to tell you the truth, as I held the silent phone in my hand, all I could think of was five years ago when my fabulous friend Soozie, frenzied from a irrational encounter with her mentally failing mother called to say, “When I opened my eyes I had my hands around her throat and I was squeezing. I actually wanted to kill her but I didn’t so I know we’ll laugh about it someday.” (Grandma Fran remains alive and well at 96).
I only hope that we’re all alive to laugh about all of this someday. We’re just sayin…