Caring for My Mother: Three Generations of Women Under One Roof
At the age of 80, I am now the age my mother was when she came to live with me. And I can honestly say that having her move in with me and my 15-year-old daughter was a gift.
The choice to have my mother move in with us was suggested by my then-15-year-old daughter who adored her grandmother or, as we called her, Gram. And although we knew there would be challenges and medical obstacles, we still decided to “adopt her.” And it became the best decision we ever made.
Actually, my mother was my dearest friend and I valued a lot of her input and suggestions and she and my daughter were best friends. My personal situation was that I had been a widow raising my daughter for the past five years at that time. I converted a den into a bedroom and adapted a bathroom for my mother with grab bars and a bath seat to make her feel more comfortable and secure. I wanted her to feel as though she belonged and was not intruding in any way. Thankfully, she took to her surroundings immediately.
Were there frustrating moments after she came to live with us? Of course, but the good times far outweighed any stumbling blocks we encountered. We settled in nicely, the three of us.
My mother always volunteered to do things around the house…anything to make it easier for me. At the time, I was working locally as a secretary and about to graduate college at age 45 and I was reluctant to ask for her help, mainly because I didn’t want my mother to overdo it. In retrospect, though, given an opportunity for a do-over, I would have given her some things to do, but I was in Wonder Woman-mode at the time, so I did most everything myself. She did help by dusting for me and I didn’t object. She was very neat, and her room was always fastidious until the time when she was unable to do more because of a physical decline.
In hindsight, I now realize that my mother needed a purpose. Even at her age. Because everyone, old or young, needs a reason for being here. Even at 80+, we need to feel like we’re a part of the human race. My mother was always a doer—she brought up four children, was a wife to my father and a daughter to her mother, who lived with us until she passed. She also worked locally in a drugstore for several years selling stamps. Eventually, both of us worked for a Boston-based company and rode the local train to work together each day. My mother was a warm, friendly woman who was loved by everyone, and she had a great sense of humor.
After my mother moved in with us, life went along for several years until we noticed her starting to weaken physically. At first, it was gradual and then it accelerated. There was an obvious frailty and an inability to get around like she used to. Things were changing.
We saw my siblings and their families often on weekends and my home became the family hub and we celebrated holidays and celebrations all together. It was wonderful for all of us.
Once my mother hit her late 80’s, though, things began to shift. She needed more help dressing and getting around and managing her day-to-day needs, and simple things like using the bathroom became a real challenge. And her condition required more personal care at home and the need of a physician’s intervention if we were to keep her living with us.
The status quo was no longer quo and we needed to make changes which included visiting nurses and nursing aides to assist us with in-home care.
Change was coming and decisions needed to be made by us and my siblings. So, we had a family conference and decided that mom would stay where she was. With us. In her own home and her own bed and we would begin at home-care.
When I was young, my widowed grandmother came to live in our home with us. I had the advantage of learning and speaking the Yiddish language with both my mother and grandmother. Our home was multi-generational and that afforded me the opportunity to observe my grandmother’s day- to-day activities. Both she and I shared a closeness and had fun together playing cards and checkers, chatting and we even shared a bedroom in her later years. At that time, I was able to participate in her health care. I was also able to watch how well she interacted with my mother. Together they would share holiday preparations and bake goodies together and always invited me to help. It was a wonderful experience for me. One that has stayed with me all these years. And I wanted my daughter to have the same experience.
After my mother came to live with us, my daughter had the same opportunity that I had to spend time and interact with her grandmother. She and my mother had a great relationship and enjoyed being together and sharing daily life. My mother was an easy patient to care for, even when she was ill. She was not a complainer, even when she was uncomfortable. She had an even temperament and a sense of humor and my daughter’s friends, along with mine, loved spending time with her.
Eventually, I noticed that she was beginning to slow down. She had difficulty walking and her gait was unsteady. Bodily functions were becoming a problem and she needed some sort of help if we were to keep her at home with us. So, we had decisions to make…
*Author’s note: In my next two installments, I’ll describe how we handled my mother’s health issues and how we managed her end-of life care.
About the author ~
Sandy Eigner is eighty going on fifty. She’s a mother, a grandmother, and a writer living out her retirement between Florida and Boston. She writes about her life experience raising a family and caring her for own mother as a single, working mom. She also writes about life as a snowbird, as a grandmother, and as an active senior who found love again later in life.