A "Little Walk" To $500,000

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Roast Pork with mashed potatoes, squash and mixed vegetables. One of Mom’s favorites. I bring it at 6:15 and set about our routine...1) re-heat the dinner (“this would be even better if it was hot.”); 2) Drape a bath towel over Mom, from neck to  knee; 3) place the dinner on a no-slip plate; and 4) sit for a bit while Mom eats. But, hey... something’s different tonight...

Did you go someplace today Mom? I see you’re wearing makeup...

Yes (smiling)... I went for a walk (happy face).

With whom?

By myself... to the top of the street.

What! Did you use your walker?

No... I just used my cane.

That’s not a good idea Mom.

I was fine... a little wobbly...but ok....

I should probably be slapping my 91 year old mother on the back, exclaiming “atta girl!” and admiring her spunk, but I’m not. I’m processing the walk-event to understand why she embarked on such a dangerous mission alone. What was she thinking? It’s not like she’s an “outdoorsy” woman, chomping at the bit to get back in to nature.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Mom’s ambulatory ability is about a 4. Like a toddler learning to walk, she “cruises” her apartment, bracing from one piece of furniture to the next. In the real world, Mom walks with her left hand on me and her right hand on a cane. For more than a trip to the doctor, we take the “rollator.”

Still unsatisfied with Mom’s answers thus far, I press for more information:

I don’t understand Mom...Why didn’t you call me? Just the other day, you were telling me how you’d come to a place where you didn’t feel you needed to leave your apartment that much.

You were at work, and I just wanted to get out while the weather’s still ok... and while I still can. I may not have many opportunities left.

Taking myself out of the picture for a few moments, I can understand how Mom might be connecting the dots. Last month, we ate lunch at the Landing, and then sat at the town Wharf, watching the boats and talking. Our family has a good deal of history at that Wharf, and Mom was happy to regale me with all of it again. It was my father’s second home (“heaven’s waiting room” as he called it, or the “CBYC” – Cheap Bastard’s Yacht Club), and post-barbeque ice cream at the Wharf was a given on summer nights. At the end of our sit, we agree to make our Wharf visit a regular event.

Since then, she hasn’t asked, and I have offered. Not from lack of interest or desire, but simply from forgetting. At this point in our conversation, and full of guilt, I promise to take Mom out on the next nice day. I offer her assurance:

You’ll have plenty of opportunities to go for a walk with me or just sit at the Wharf. You just have to remind me.

Well, I won’t be getting to Florida this year either, so I may be stuck inside.

Ohhhh...so this isn’t about me being a neglectful daughter at all! It’s about Mom’s mourning her annual winter retreat. That makes perfect sense. She passed her “little house” in Florida on to my sister this year, proclaiming the trip was just too much for her.

But this isn’t exactly the full story either. If I offered to fly with her, she’d go in a heartbeat. She’s not returning to Florida because all her friends are gone – willingly or not. She confessed her loneliness last winter, and had me send assisted living brochures. Not going to Florida is a big change for Mom, and an even bigger loss for someone who built a home and lived the best 30 years of her life there, with her husband.

Mom’s simple walk to the top of the street probably took less than 60 steps, but without me or furniture to hold on to, her solo journey up the hill was a big risk. Giving it great thought, I conclude that Mom’s little trip was an outward expression of her inner loneliness, and a last stab at independence.

The next day, the sun is shining and I think Mom might enjoy a proper walk. As I enter her back door, she is feebly standing at her front door, speaking with FedEx man who is clearly not understanding what she wants to do. He throws me a pleading, WTF look, and then I see the manila folder in Mom’s hands.

Months of questionable activities on Mom’s part suddenly make perfect sense, and I am terrified.

Within the manila envelope is $5,000, in hundred dollar bills meticulously attached with surgical tape (so as not to rip the bills), to multiple pages of a Coastal Living Magazine. (...surely the Maldivian recipients will appreciate her clever use of this particular publication...). For her efforts, she will receive her sweepstakes winnings of $500,000 later that night.

After an hour with the police, multiple forms of “evidence,” and a visit the next day from Elder Services, Mom finally understands that she’s been horribly scammed (a whale of a tale to be told in the next episode).

The full story on Mom’s dangerous mission to the top of the street, was that she had to catch a cab... a cab she didn’t want me to see from my kitchen window, Right.Next.Door. In essence, I’d been duped by my mother.

After an initial phase of shock and awe, I don my empathy hat and can tell that, in addition to being embarrassed, Mom is really hurting on multiple emotional levels.

Loneliness was a huge factor for participating in the scam. Mom was communicating daily with her “new friend, Amanda” in Connecticut... they “gabbed for hours.”

The intense action required to complete this clandestine activity had given Mom purpose. Her intent was to donate her $500,000 in winnings to her beloved charities... all 72 of them. If she could do nothing else at the end of her life, she could leave a large legacy of giving.

With Mom’s dexterity and sight waning, she’s unable to do her “crafting” now, and finds less and less enjoyment in reading or watching TV. Despite requiring a magnifying glass to complete the paperwork necessary for her subversive activities, the scam gave her something to do. It involved communication with others, brain power, organization, and a little crafty creativity (taping $100 bills into magazines with surgical tape?)

Despite a college education, and a head containing most of her original marbles, Mom is still a 91 year old woman in need of companionship, activity, and flexing her intellectual muscle. Unfortunately, the scam she was victim to offered all of these, plus the promise of more.

Mom’s involvement in this caper has highlighted what’s missing in her life, but I can’t be the only source to provide it. I can, however, help her find emotional fulfilment through senior “play dates,” paid companionship (with a reputable service), and weekly trips to the Council On Aging. All of these are doable and will certainly be more cost effective - with far greater returns - than the illegal alternative.  

  

Emily Gaffney