I am approximately two months younger than my mom was before she "lost" my dad, her husband of 34 years plus the five years they knew each other before that. She would turn 55 years old less than two weeks from the day that she lost the man she married and faced a life she could never in a million years have predicted.
I can't think of one thing in the world that could have prepared Mom for the life she would now face On her own, with a seventeen year old son who would graduate in three months and a twenty three year old daughter with a marriage in crisis. My sisters were only 32 and 34 years old at the time. Younger than my oldest son ...
It is good that we don't know what life has in store. It seemed impossibly hard at the time but we only had to digest one day at a time. In retrospect, I see now how Mom was already looking ahead and preparing herself in ways we couldn't even begin to imagine, as her children.
Dad was hospitalized for the four years, eight months and almost two weeks he lived after the massive heart attack that stole the essence of who he was. There is no word that defined Mom's role at that time. She fell somewhere in between the cracks of being a wife and a widow. It is a hard place to live - in that place with no name.
But Mom persevered. She just kept taking the next forward step at a time when she had no idea where those steps would lead.
She didn't ask for help. In the immediate aftermath of Dad's heart attack, family came out to offer comfort, support and friendship. I remember little from that time.
All I seem to remember is Mom bouncing back and holding down the fort, running the household, raising my brother and (from what I can guess now that I have a little more perspective) trying to keep things as normal as possible for my youngest brother. He was a young man cub, just on the cusp of being in a place where Dad would have probably had so many life lessons to pass along. But just as Mom was used to the role where she became a cub scout leader because Dad was not available for those extracurricular roles, Mom stepped up to the plate and became who my brother needed her to be.
Mom and Dad had a reputation of taking in family members who moved to their city and providing lodgings and the comforts of home as needed. Mom continued to fill that role and in doing so, she came to know many up and comers within our family.
Was that when she realized the value of keeping company with those younger than her? As long as I have a memory, Mom has never been one to complain of any kind of body or health ailment. When Dad was hospitalized and nothing of significance would change over the course of time, she said she could have screamed when people asked how he was. There was nothing new to report and there never would be. For a person who never talked about sickness at the best of times, she most certainly didn't change when times changed.
Never once did I hear Mom complain about being alone or having everything fall on her shoulders. She hired people to do what she could not do and we did hear a lot about how no one in this world could work the way Dad did or perfect the job that was being done to the standard that Dad upheld. Living with a perfectionist is hard. Living without them is harder.
No one would ever meet Dad's standards. Whether it was in regards to home/yard/or vehicle repair, nor in any other way. As far as I know, Mom never even considered the possibility.
It was Mom against the world. She did what had to be done and hired people to do what she could not. There was no such thing as defeat for Mom.
That was thirty two years ago. And Mom is still feisty, determined and a force to be reckoned with.
She still despises talking about illness, aches and pains and anything related to doctoring. The idea of moving out of her home and moving into a condo type of arrangement with other "seniors" is almost unspeakable. Mom has never wanted and still does not want to live with "old people". I thought that was a rather hilarious statement because Mom is 87 years old herself. Until I toured the home my uncle has just moved into.
My uncle could benefit from some of the services of a retirement home and having the option of meals and laundry being included was a good fit for him at this juncture of his life. He has been through a rather worrisome time and it would seem (from the outside, looking in) that having little to worry about would alleviate some of his stress load and give him the opportunity to live a more carefree life.
Except there are so many other people so much worse off than him, who live there.
When I was talking with Mom last night, I confessed that I finally had a glimmer of understanding about her deference about moving into a retirement type of setting. We spoke of my uncle who is a well read, educated, well spoken and thoroughly interesting man, being in an environment where he could all-too-easily become someone's sounding board as they go on tirelessly about their ill health and other woes. He is so kind that he would stop and listen for as long as a person cared to talk. That is just who he is.
Just because a person can use some of the services provided in this setting does not mean that they have lost their ability to live a full life outside of their room.
My uncle has so much to offer this world. He listens and understands in a way few others do. He is so empathetic, compassionate and caring that my fear is that his positive energy could be drained if he doesn't have an outlet which "fills him up" on the other hand.
On another note, I have an aunt who moved to an assisted living facility (not quite) three years ago. She is four years older than my uncle but was close to his age now, when she moved in. Granted, she has a few more health issues to contend with. But it saddens me to hear how the past few years have worn her down.
Two of her sisters have died during that time. She has lost a fair bit of her vision and is unable to read. She lives in a home where people, friends she has known for a good part of her life, move in and "move on". As a rule, there is usually only one way to leave a facility such as this. I don't know how it must feel to live in an environment where death and dying is commonplace.
My aunt has lost so much. Her body is fighting mightily on but she is tired. She phones Mom and they have run out of things to talk about. My aunt used to be full of news because she was living in a facility where she saw and heard so much news to share and brighten Mom's day.
I look at growing old so differently these days. I am adopting a lot of Mom's thinking with a renewed perspective. I look at Mom, the life she has had and where she is at. People admire Mom for her strength, feisty and independent ways, her quick thinking and her ability to stand on her own in the face of adversity.
I don't know how she does it. But I am starting to see why she advised me not too long ago, that I need to find young friends. Too much talk of illness, death, dying and all of the things that can go wrong in the last half of one's life is the wrong place to divert one's energy.
I believe my sisters have this thing figured out because they surround themselves in their family. Their children, their grandchildren, youth, vitality and that invincible spirit one has when life hasn't taught you too many harsh lessons.
Where do I want to be thirty years from now? I want to be happy, healthy and nestled in an environment where I feel needed, wanted and loved. I "want it all". I want all the things that money can't buy.
I look at who Mom was, when she was my age. I look at who she is today. I look at who I am and I wonder what I can learn.
Life has become so terribly serious. We need to surround ourselves with people who bring us up and draw us out to become the best person we are capable of being. I count myself very fortunate. I have all that I need to get where I hope to be.
One small step at a time, in the direction I hope to go will propel me from one year into the next. If I can become half the person my mom is, I will be content. In fact, I am already pretty content, so I'm halfway there.
“Everyone needs to be needed, wants to be wanted, and loves to be loved.” ~ Heather Lende