Mom Adjusts to Life in a New Environment
This is the third column
in a 10-part series by Sacramentan Joyce Christensen on her experiences caring
for her elderly mother, Thelma Price. To
read the previous installment, CLICK
Putting Mom's house up for sale made her both sad and angry. She just knew it was "worth more than the realtor said." Selling, or giving away, many of her most cherished possessions was traumatic. A flood of tears came as her Hammond organ went to her grandson. Tears came over and over again as she watched a lifetime of memories disappear.
Too many times, I said, "Mom, I understand your sadness, but they are just things." In my heart, I knew I couldn't really understand her hurt, but I tried. I'd say, "You're going to start a new life at age 84. It's going to be a great new adventure! I expect to call you someday and invite you to go shopping and you'll turn me down because you'll be too busy." My enthusiasm was not catching. Mom still felt her life was over, and I was sentencing her to a life of doom.
To complicate life more, my 39-year-old son was dying of cancer. I kept many of the details from Mom, hoping it would protect her somewhat fragile health.
What I did not know was that she would be diagnosed a manic-depressive following my son's death. Many things led up to this discovery. What was so sad is that it took more than two years of me telling the doctor that I felt he was missing something during his exams of Mom. He assured me she was just "getting older" and I could expect many changes in her thoughts and attitudes.
One day, Mom solemnly told me she had considered killing herself after losing her grandson. She had lost daddy, then my sister to suicide, and now a precious grandson. I want to encourage anyone who has a parent that seems depressed to insist on a doctor testing them for depression! Once Mom was given antidepressant medication, she again became a happy, well-adjusted person.
This does not mean she was happy about moving -- just in a better mood in general.
The house sold 30 days after it was listed. Instead of the quick sale making Mom happy, she had major stress because it happened so fast. I would set up a day to pack; she would call and ask if we could wait a few days. Finally, I set up packing days with a reward of a full day of shopping as soon as we were done. It worked! I bought lunch!
A new chapter of life begins. We're on our way! Mom's "golden years" are ahead!
The move to River's Edge independent living community finally came in January 1996. At that time, Mom was financially comfortable with her Social Security and a small savings account. All looked promising for a happy future of retirement. I did everything to make the move -- and her day-to-day life -- easy for her.
I was not prepared for the next surprise. The new home brought with it no enthusiasm from Mom. The first week, she didn't come out of her apartment.
She unpacked, and cleaned house, and cleaned house some more. Her meals were sent in. She made no attempt to get to know the other residents. She was just plain scared to step out the door.
Since I had encouraged Mom to move, I felt personally responsible for trying to change her lifestyle at age 84. Help! What do I do next? Who could advise me?
One afternoon, there was a knock on Mom's door. It was the owner of the retirement home, inviting Mom to join him and his mother for dinner. She was always polite, so she reluctantly accepted. That invitation broke the ice. The next day she began eating in the dining room every day. She loved the food.
She made new friends and began to enjoy her "new life."
She did make a mistake when one of the ladies asked her name. Mom said, "Just call me Grandma -- everyone does". The lady impatiently told her that everyone there was a Grandma. Next time, she introduced herself as "Thelma Price -- like the 'Price is Right.'" Hooray! Mom had her sense of humor back!
By the end of the first month, I got calls saying, "I won two games of bingo!" Or, "You sure would have been proud of your mother today -- I played bridge and got high score." She sang in the choir and traveled with her friends.
A highlight of her new life was winning a "crazy hat" contest. She had spent hours turning a jeweled bra into a hat. Her efforts paid off! Life was good.
When we celebrated her 85th birthday, she said, "I just might shoot for 100 -- birthdays are pretty fun." Mom's thinking and demeanor were almost magical, like she was 10 years younger.
Mom was featured in a newspaper article, sharing her experiences of finding a "whole new life in her 80s." She told the reporter that she was very surprised to discover most of her new friends had also been depressed when they moved to River's Edge. They admitted they felt insecure about moving to new surroundings. Some were downright mad at their family for "making them move."
She also noted her new friends also walked slowly, were a little hard of hearing, and even had aches and pains, just like she did. I could remember not too long ago she thought she was the only senior with these problems.
One of the funniest things she did was to insist the reporter look in her small refrigerator. There was no food, except a snack or two. Since Mom was just 4 foot 8 inches tall, it was charming when she stood tall and laughed, saying, "Living here is like being on a cruise every day -- I have wonderful food, and never have to cook."
"We're all getting older together," she added. "Positive attitudes make us young at heart."
This down-to-earth, honest information in the newspaper article helped many family members gain ground toward helping their elderly parents determine that living in a retirement home just might not be so bad after all.
Every day got better ... for both of us. My life was normal again. I knew Mom was safe and, most importantly, happy. I assumed this peace would last a very long time.
Next week: A con artist enters the scene, and leaves with Mom's life savings.
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Last Updated 3/11/03