This is the second
column in a 10-part series by Sacramentan Joyce Christensen on her experiences
caring for her elderly mother, Thelma Price. To
read the first installment, CLICK HERE.
The day Mom celebrated her 74th birthday, she said she wanted to "retire" from my TV show and relax.
She loved her home, and any work that went with it. One day I surprised her with a visit, since I was working in her area. I asked how her day was going.
She hesitated, then quietly told me she had tripped in the garden earlier in the day. It took her two hours to crawl into the house, because she couldn't pull herself up. She said she was embarrassed, but lucky she didn't get hurt.
Like most seniors, Mom had a great sense of pride and loved her independence. She hated telling me about anything negative for fear of looking foolish. I'm sure many things happened she didn't tell me about.
The next month, Mom had another incident. I tried to call her at 8 p.m., as I always did. She didn't answer the phone. After a number of attempts to reach her, I decided to drive to her home. As I was walking out the door, she called me, completely out of breath and almost hysterical.
She had gone grocery shopping a few miles away at 5 o'clock. To her, grocery shopping was an event. She loved exploring every nook and cranny in the store before deciding what to buy. Time slipped by as she enjoyed her day out. When she walked out of the store at 6:30 p.m. she was surprised to discover it was almost dark. This unnerved her, which is probably why she forgot where she parked the car.
After a frantic 20 minutes of searching and wondering if the car had been stolen, she asked an employee of the store for help. He took her arm and told her he'd be proud to help a lady in distress. As they looked for her car, he put her at ease by telling her that almost every day somebody forgot where they had parked. By the time they found her car, it was almost 7 p.m. and very dark outside.
When Mom got nervous or upset, she completely lost her sense of direction, but her pride did not allow her to ask the employee for directions to her home. To top things off, she could not see well when she drove at night. As she pulled out of the store parking lot, she got confused and turned the opposite direction of her home, driving several miles out of her way. She finally realized her mistake.
She found a gas station and asked directions. It was almost 8 p.m.
When she arrived home she was extremely upset and scared. She carried her groceries into the house, then called me. After a full account of the day's adventure, she promised she would never be caught on the road after dark again. Her guardian angel was with her that night for sure.
I found myself thinking often about Mom's safety. She was very determined to stay independent, and told me a few small problems would never "get her down."
The final straw came a few weeks later, when I stopped by early one afternoon.
I found her in bed. She never would lie down during the day. She said she had felt light-headed and her left arm hurt. I was going to call an ambulance, but she said "forget it ... I've lived 76 years and I'll be fine."
It was later determined she'd had a slight stroke. It was further discovered through various tests that she would continue to have TIAs -- mini strokes that would occur for the rest of her life.
I suggested we begin educating ourselves about independent retirement communities in the area, and the amenities they offer. You would have thought I had asked her to move into an outhouse. She found dozens of reasons why she would never move from the home she loved.
It took us eight years of visiting more than 30 retirement homes for Mom to decide she just "might be a senior citizen, and need a little more care." We made it an adventure each time we toured a retirement home. There seemed to be endless possibilities for everyone -- except my mother. She was totally convinced retirement homes were "only for old people."
To quote Mom: "What would I do with all of my furniture? I'm a good housekeeper, and most importantly, the house is paid for."
I showed her on paper how she could sell her home for a profit. Her Social Security and annuities would pay her rent in a retirement home. She could put the money from her home sale into savings, or invest it wisely.
I reminded her that when she moved, she could furnish her new home the way she wanted to. All of her meals would be served to her, plus she would be with people her own age. She could start playing bridge again, or go to Reno and gamble, which was a favorite thing for her to do. She wouldn't have utility bills -- except her telephone and TV. She could keep as busy as she wanted -- or as relaxed as she wanted.
I might as well have been talking to myself. Everything I said was met with deaf ears.
Making life easier was definitely my dream, not Mom's. It wasn't even a consideration, even though now she was 83. Each new place we visited over the years had a flaw, according to Mom. She provided dozens of excuses why each one was wrong: "No way will I live there -- somebody died in the room that was vacant." "The rooms are too small." "What if I don't like the food?" Worse yet, "I will have to sit at a table with people that can't hear and always talk about their aches and pains." I always hoped nobody heard what she said.
Mom was like many seniors. Moving from familiar surroundings to the world of planned retirement was very frightening. It brought out insecure feelings and negative thoughts. Why would her daughter want to "stick her away in a place where old people were sitting around, waiting to die"? Was she open to finding out the truth? Of course not! "I'm never going to move" became her standard answer to me.
Mom easily admitted she was lonely. What she didn't realize was just how lonely she was. I knew she was depressed, but she didn't. Each day I left her, I wondered what might happen next. When she was 75 she didn't want to live to be 80. At age 83 she absolutely didn't plan to hang around until she was 90. I told her that when she died was not her choice to make. How was I ever going to convince her to make a change before she got hurt or sick?
Guess what? She was the one who opened that door! After years of searching, Mom surprised me on the day she turned 84 by announcing that she was "ready to move." The next week, we found a new complex being built called River's Edge. Mom could move into a brand new home, furnish it the way she wanted, and enjoy well-balanced meals, an exercise program, interaction with new friends and the safety of a planned community. Things were looking up.
Her new apartment would not be ready to move into for five months. She could reserve the room, and the view, she wanted by putting a non-refundable deposit down. The word non-refundable is often scary. This time it was a blessing. I felt it would cement the deal. Mom always hated to lose money on anything.
I was a happy lady! I felt it would be smooth sailing from then on. Boy, was I wrong!
Next week: Mom's house sells fast, but the transition to a new home isn't easy.
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Last Updated 3/4/03