What’s the best way to deal with a parent or relative as they age. My aunt, my mother’s sister, raged through her decline with anger, denial and increasing hallucinations. My mother has taken a different approach, always the optimist, she tries to see the positive. But like my aunt, my mother is strong willed. Often when mom says yes it really a secret no.
My mother and I are staying at her summer home. A place she has not been to for a few years as my father’s health declined, leading to his death this past winter.
Mom is back at her summer home for the first time in three years while her own health at 91 has continued to decline. She now uses a walker when she leaves the house. Climbing steps is not easy for her. She takes long naps each day and her food intake is declining.
As we planned this trip to her two bedroom house, I suggested that I stay in the second floor master bedroom and that she stay in the first floor guest bedroom. I was concerned about her going up and down steps. After some discussion she agreed with me, only to tell my siblings the next day that she planned to stay in the master on the second floor. Mom’s yes was a way to end the conversation, but her mind was already made up.
Now that we have arrived at her house, much to my surprise, she seems to be ok going up and down the steps, slowly but successfully. I am less worried than I was, but when I leave in two weeks, and she stays, she will need some kind of help.
At home, my mother lives in a regular apartment building with no help except a cleaning lady two days a week. She has been isolating mostly alone through the last few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit right after my father passed away. Each day she walks the block and a half to the market and back. She takes a daily walk around the park by her apartment. So far she has been surviving quite well.
But now in her summer home, away from the flatness of the city and the wheelchair accessible curbs, she faces another dilemma, how to move around a place with hills and steps and uneven pavement. She is determined to stay here and does not want help, but it is simply not possible for her to go it alone.
She no longer drives. There is no food delivery service here. Life is not simple anymore. We have agreed to find her some kind of help for food shopping, errands, light cleaning, meal preparation and laundry. But she pushes back at anything that will impinge on her freedom.
So we will navigate and negotiate this next step of her journey. If mom gets hurt here, so be it. She has made her own choice of how she wants to spend her summer. But before I head home, we will have set up a support system for her.