The Right Place For Mom

woman and dog.jpg

A few years ago, a strange lady inhabited my mom’s body. She moved in around the time we began discussing the possibility of Mom, at the time a spry eighty-nine-year-old, leaving her beautiful three-bedroom home for a one-bedroom apartment in an independent living residence.

This new woman was confused and unsure. She had been living on her own for the past few years, after the death of my father. A part of her knew it was time to give up the responsibilities of owning a home. On the flip side, this was home, for God’s sake. Why would she want to leave?  

My sister and I were also uncertain. The image of our mother eating dinner alone, night after night, squeezed at our hearts. During the pause in conversations, I heard my mother’s loneliness. Yet, it was impossible to imagine not seeing her at that large kitchen table reading the paper or on a lounge by the pool.

It took many months of deliberation, but we finally moved her into a place called The Village. Her apartment was lovely and filled with the familiar: her worn couch, family photos, a homemade quilt. Every afternoon a buttery strip of sunlight fell across the carpet. It was as much like home as possible.

The first few weeks were difficult on all of us except her dog. He didn’t care where he slept, as long as he was with my mom.

And that first night was positively heartbreaking. As I said goodbye, this woman who had raised me to be strong and positive, who had dropped me off at college with the promise that I would find someone to eat with in the dorm, squeezed my hand and looked at me with frightened eyes.

So, there I stood, promising her that very same thing. She would find her tribe and make friends. But there is one small, or rather large, difference. Going off to college is the beginning of a new life. Of a future with unlimited opportunities. Moving into a retirement home is the beginning of our last act.  

Her apartment was breezy and fresh and warm. But outside in the hallways there was an air of uncertainty. Many of the residents needed caregivers. The empty chairs lined up for the afternoon performance often made it difficult for me to breathe. An ambulance arrived almost daily. Mom said all these “old” people made her feel old.  She saw her future in front of her and she was far from that future.

It turned out not to be the place for my mom. But I did learn some very important things during the process.

You must have patience.  Moving your parent into a strange environment cannot be rushed. And “learning to love” this new home takes time.

There is nothing more important than showing compassion. Saying you understand is not enough. You must show your love. Bring your mom her favorite chocolate bar. Bring your dad his favorite latte. And bring yourself and your children. There is no such thing as visiting too much.

There will be fear. You may be afraid, but your parent will be terrified.

She settled in with a clique of friends, for a few years. Just like college girls, they gossiped and giggled. And joked about the elderly gentlemen who introduced himself every day, as if they had never met.

But as the years wore on, we realized this wasn’t the right place for my mom. She (and her dog, of course) now live with me and my husband.  

That feisty, kind, upbeat woman has returned. And you can bet I’ll do anything to keep her that way, for as much time as we still have together.

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About the Author:

Janie Emaus is the author of the young adult novel, Mercury in Retro Love. She has essays in the various anthologies including You Have Lipstick On Your Teeth, Feisty after 45, and several of the Chicken Soup books.

Her blogs have appeared on The Huffington PostThe Washington PostPurple Clover, Country LivingGood Housekeeping and Woman’s’ Day. She was proud to be named a 2013 BlogHer Humor Voice of the Year. And beyond thrilled to win honorary mention in the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

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Janie Emaus