On Life and Love after 50 eNewsletter – May 19, 2018
A Champ to care give his 90-year-old mother (Be sure to read the update at the end)
I have been friends with Mick for 43 years. We worked together at the Victoria Station restaurant chain in the 1970s. Those were fun and carefree days back then. My, my, how life has changed. This week, Mick, 68, reached out for advice.
Mick wrote, “In September, 2017, I retired from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and then spent the winter in Lake Tahoe skiing. While I was up there, Emma, my 90-year-old mother, tripped and fell in the chicken house at her farm in rural Wisconsin and suffered a concussion.
Emma has been living alone, by proud choice, in a circa 1850 farmhouse on 47 acres for the past few years following the passing of her second husband and her dog. That accidental fall at her farm, and, one too many cold winters, finally changed her mind about living alone. She has decided to take me up on my longstanding offer for her to move to Dallas to live out her final years near me.
As I considered her and my housing options, I decided to buy a house near White Rock Lake that was big enough with the right floor plan to permit us to be housemates but still have a healthy measure of separation and privacy.
I read a book titled “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, which describes how we in the developed world have decided to ‘outsource’ the care of our elders to an impersonal, uncaring industry focused more on medical outcomes and safety than quality of life.
I strongly recommend Champs take the time to read the book. That book helped me decide that my mother deserved a better fate than to be parked in an institutional setting waiting to die. That may happen eventually, but until it becomes necessary, I want to provide her with a more pleasant alternative.
I am a bit apprehensive about having my mother as a housemate. She and I are fiercely independent and have each lived alone for many years. We also know how to push each other’s ‘buttons.’ But we have committed to give this a try.
Emma’s health is good. But I know at some point, the wheels will start to come off. There is enough room here to permit live-in help if or when necessary. I intend to go back to work (for the $ and the mental stimulation) and have a new, wonderful lady named Mary Ann, age 61, in my life who lives a short drive away. So, I will get time away from Emma. So, I should avoid caregiver loneliness. Mary Ann is totally on board with Emma moving in with me.
Mick and Mary Ann – Mick will help his Mom; Mary Ann agrees with his decision
The challenges to this arrangement are obvious. But my mother and I have always gotten along very well. I’m sure we will be able to negotiate our way around the inevitable conflicts (so long as she remains lucid). My immediate concerns are:
1. Her single senior loneliness. Emma will be leaving behind her social network and initially will be totally dependent on me for conversation and emotional support. How do I help her develop a cadre of new buddies here in Dallas to ease that burden? She will need senior social interaction.
2. Her isolation. Our house is in a wonderful park like setting with shade trees and a large nearby lake. Yet Dallas-Fort Worth is the fourth largest urban area in the US. So, there is a lot to do – museums, opera, symphony, the Dallas Arboretum, restaurants, art galleries, etc. My mother has agreed to give up her car and will not be driving, but I want her to get out and enjoy all that the Dallas/Fort Worth area has to offer, as long as she is able. Are Uber and Lyft safe and reliable transportation alternatives?
3. My sadness. I think of my mother as a strong, vibrant woman with a bit of a temper and a lot of spunk. She stopped cross country skiing at age 80 and still shovels snow and chops her own firewood. She has always been a handful.
But as she ages, she is beginning to show signs of frailty and loss of cognitive skills. She is more indecisive than before. I understand that such declines may be inevitable but emotionally it’s hard for me to watch and experience. Seeing her only occasionally, as I did previously, made it easier to take. But what will happen when I see it every day? How do I best prepare myself to be strong but remain considerate and loving?
I’m certain our Champs have a lot of collective and hard-earned wisdom on how to manage my new situation. Feedback from them would be helpful. There is no reason for me to reinvent the wheel.”
Tom’s comment to Mick:
-Your apprehension is understandable. No doubt, her moving in will be an adjustment for both of you.
-Your immediate concerns are valid. She will be lonely; you will need to find places for her where she can go and socialize and make new friends. Is there a senior center near? Check Meetup.com to see if there are clubs or activities that would interest her. I’d get on this her senior social interaction right away.
-Uber and Lyft are, for the most part, safe options. But, occasionally, we hear about a driver who is a bad egg. Also, can Emma use a cell phone to access the apts so she can order Uber or Lyft when she wants to be picked up?
Are wheel-chair-access buses for seniors available to come to your home to transport Emma to and from the places she will want to go? Also, who will be with her at museums, the opera and other places when she is out and about?
-Good that the new house is big enough should you need live-in help.
-The sadness you feel is natural, after all, you love her. But showing signs of frailty and loss of cognitive skills is normal. To cope with that you will have to realize it goes with the territory. You will be tested most with having patience for her declining ability and if that becomes too unbearable, you may have to make other arrangements for her, which you and she do not want.
That’s what makes care giving so damn hard. It becomes lonely as well. You cannot let it start to cost you your health—that’s a huge challenge.
Knowing you, you will handle the situation with grace and understanding.
And then this happens. Update from Mick on Wednesday:
Mick wrote, “Yesterday, my mother walked into a glass partition at her bank in West Bend WI, bounced off, fell down and severely broke her leg. Fortunately, the hip ball and socket are in good shape (so no hip replacement needed) but she will have a rod and screws installed this afternoon to put her femur back together. My brother is on his way there now. I will fly to Milwaukee Friday.
“So, I guess this will be baptism-by-fire for me regarding this care-taking thing. Wish me luck!”