Tomorrow (Monday, July 28th) is my mom's 97th birthday.
She just taught me a HUGE lesson, which I will never forget.
First off, she can relay a very powerful message very simply. Perhaps she'll lay the groundwork with a few words, may repeat them from time to time, and then once we're clued in and start watching her facial expressions, all the prompts become clear.
What I had been seeing with Mom over the past six months, just to give some background, was a rather lackluster demeanor after what I'd always believed was a spirited approach to life. I didn't know whether to be alarmed as in DO SOMETHING FOR HER or to understand that she's feeling rather disenchanted with her lifestyle. The question Is it a funk Mom's in or is there more to it? began haunting me.
I also knew that she'd been experiencing sadness and loneliness as friends she'd made in recent years had either passed or moved away. I was kind of waiting for the prolonged mourning period for them to lift at some point - enough to return to her relatively "normal" self - but I wasn't sure that was even possible.
Mom lives at the Watermark, a retirement community at 17th and Vine in the Logan Square section of Philadelphia. She and my dad moved in a decade ago, he passed a year later, 2.5 years ago she began to need 24/7 care and about 1.5 years ago, she became wheelchair-bound.
In recent years, what had become the most important aspect of Mom's life in my eyes and most likely that of my siblings was that we knew she was well cared for and safe with her loving caregivers. I have to admit I didn't think about much else.
A few months back, however, that changed. Mom in her wheelchair and I took a walk to the local park that she and I had frequented many times. She seemed enthused at the suggestion to go but didn't say much other than "Look at the verandas" when we got there.
As I sat there watching her appear so happy to be outside - as well as gazing up at the verandas of a local apartment building - I began to recall Mom's enjoyment of the outdoors, feeling the air on her face and the wind in her hair. Unfortunately, she doesn't get outside much these days. The combination of living on the 14th floor of the high rise, waiting for elevators and having to walk a few minutes to get to some greenery aren't factors that work together to easily satisfy her longing to be out in the open. Consequently, she's often cooped up inside.
While she was probably daydreaming about verandas, I was recalling her morning routine at home when we all lived together. The first thing she used to do when she got out of bed was to look out the window to the park across the street, as well as at our own lawn and garden which she spent many hours cultivating. She loved and still loves the beauty and fragrance of flowers and watching the birds fly and hearing them sing. For years she gave me glass birds and bird books and all sorts of other bird items that honestly I didn't care for at the time but knew I would at a later date.
So this "veranda" comment gave me a sinking feeling in my stomach. It's not like she says so much that I can tune out half of it. She says far too little to disregard anything. Her comment also fed right into my concern that her children need to sit up and take notice. Why was she so focused on the verandas?
Loving someone elderly can be challenging. They are physically and emotionally fragile, and it's really difficult to figure out the complexities of their thinking and comments at times. All we can do is try.
With that in mind, I asked Mom..."Should we be looking for a new place for you to live?" She paused for a minute and then said, "I'd like that." And so her message was delivered, in just a few words, and following her prompts.
The search began, first in Philly. It became clear that wheelchair-friendly apartments don't come with verandas - at least the ones I explored. What they do come with is a plethora of generously-sized door openings and wonderful access to everything in the bathroom and the kitchen, for starters. But still, no verandas.
Skip ahead to today.
Mom is now scheduled - she still has time to change her mind - to move in to Spring Hills - an Assisted Living Community - in Cherry Hill. No verandas, but easy entry to the outdoors, to their lovely garden and fountains, and hopefully the birdies will stop by and say hello.
True to form, Mom is going for the gusto. She's excited about her opportunities for a fresh start, to make new friends, to re-invent herself, and to make the most out of her life. Right now, she's talking about trying to walk again.
Her message is clear: It's never too late to want more out of life, and to go for it, too.
Is there any better lesson a mom could teach her kid?