Patience. Kindness. Respect.

On August 5th, we got up at 4:00 a.m. and drove from Detroit to Chicago to arrive in time to get John’s ninety year-old mom, Mitzi, out of the hospital and take her back to her condo. She had been in the hospital for two weeks after a fall and serious depression. 

Mitzi’s doctor recommended moving her into an independent-living apartment for seniors, so John’s brother Herb checked it out and loved it. The plan was that we’d spend the week paring down her belongings and moving her into her new place.

It felt precarious. The night before leaving for Chicago, we called her and she tearfully told us she wanted to die and hung up on us. We called the nurses station and they said they’d give her a shower to calm her. How would she manage alone in a new apartment in this condition?

Twenty years ago, my mother fell and ended up in a nursing home for two years before her death at seventy-six. My mother was independent, a loner. She was funny—also snarky, bitchy, impatient and cranky (those traits are genetic and run in my family). I was the responsible party—it was no party. It was a crappy time and John was there for me, helping and supporting. I owe him. 

John’s mom is shy, sweet and fragile (physically and emotionally). But she was ready to give up her two-bedroom/two bath condo for a smaller, easier to tend place. Unlike my mother, who in her own words didn’t “give a rat’s ass about housecleaning,” (maybe that’s genetic too?), John’s mom is a tidier-upper and cleaner. The vacuum had gotten to heavy for her to handle, or rather she had gotten to weak to handle the vacuum (which had remained the same).

Sorting and getting things ready to move out of Mitzi’s condo.

She was lonely. She was isolated in her condo. The Senior Living apartment includes two meals a day in a lovely dining room. She can see other seniors at bingo, movies, the library, the exercise room, the art room, and on the grounds. Someone will clean her apartment twice a month. She might be happy there…

…If she took her pills.

Heart meds, but much more important, the anti-depressants. Xanax (which I find essential when flying six hours over the ocean (which is very deep). And Effexor (very helpful to me when I was the responsible party for my mother and grandmother). Mitzi is to take these meds 3 times a day. John made her a pill board after a couple days of sorting through 8 bottles of pills. And hopefully after my repeating (patiently/kindly) that “yes, you can take them on an empty stomach,” and “no, if the doctor prescribed them they aren’t too many,” and “if they’re evenly spaced throughout the 24 hours, that black cloud won’t get inside your head.” Again, and again, and again.

John made his mom a pill board…easier for her than reading 8 pill bottles.

For the next week I was Marie Kondo of “Tidying up” fame. Every item in every closet in every room was assessed. “Keep or give.” “This or that.” There were many kisses and hugs. Does Marie Kondo do that? I watched her on Netflix…she does hug.

Also I reminded myself that she needed/deserved respect. She’s a grownup. She has things that are meaningful to her. Don’t rush her. Be kind. Be patient. Respect your elders. It was a mantra in my head. “Patience. Kindness. Respect.” Repeat.

John was in other rooms filling black trash bags and hauling them to the dumpster, I wonder what he tossed. Hmm, not too respectful. I kept my mouth shut.

John’s brother Walt came and spent hours/days dealing with finances, including a tax bill that didn’t give the 90 year-old credit for being a senior, and annuity that exists…somewhere. 

Herb came after work and helped. Leslie, Herb’s wife, was an action figure, and a powerhouse of efficiency, taping up boxes for donating. It was a thrill to have her there. 

I mostly was hanging out with Mitzi. I got pretty attached…probably under the influence of all those kisses. Being nice does something to your brain.

On Saturday the movers came (note the family members are all over 60). So three men with muscles came and did a fantastic job. Mitzi was stressed. Understandable, she’d been in her condo for 30 years, and in her house for 30 years before that. I told her she’d be in her new place for 30 years too. She laughed.

We spent Saturday organizing the new place. I filled kitchen cupboards with her sitting on a chair giving a nod to where things were going. John put post-it notes on cupboard doors to make it easier to find things.

New kitchen with labels

All was well.

On Sunday morning when we arrived, she had been up a while and seemed emotionally shaky—she hadn’t taken her pills. “I don’t want to take them on an empty stomach,” she said. I (patiently) reminded her that she needs the pills immediately when she gets up. Not one of her bottles says take with food. The stress of all the changes had to be hard on her.

Post-its on the living room wall, made her laugh.

We worked all day getting things in order and at 8:30 p.m. or so, we left to go back to her condo the sleep on the blow-up mattress and lumpy futon. 

Futon and blow-up mattress. Nitey Nite.

Monday morning we packed up to come home. We stopped by her new apartment to say goodbye, dreading what we might find.

She opened the door with a big smile and when we looked around the apartment, it was beautiful—sunny, shiny and bright. Throw pillows were perfectly arranged on the couch and chairs. Kitchen counters immaculate. She was going to be okay.

Mitzi in her new place.

I’ve been calling her most days. I got attached.

But here’s the bad part, being nice is exhausting. Since we got home I’ve been bitchy, cranky, bossy, and ornery all week. My mom would understand.

21 Replies to “Patience. Kindness. Respect.”

  1. Ohhhh my heart goes out to Mitzi….and to her family. I can’t imagine leaving my house. And, so sweet of you to be so kind and understanding of her. I have many needy friends, I’m known as Uber Lee and Mother Theresa as I’m trying to fill a small void in all the friends I have that are alone. My husband and I are grateful we still have the stamina and the driving skills to be there for others. These are the tarnished years…..not the golden years. ENJOY the MOMENT. p.s….lovely apartment …all is well that ends well!!

  2. Awww, I wish I were with you to give you a hug, Lynn. Such a busy, heartbreaking situation to move from a place where one has live 30 years. But it is uplifting to see her in her new home. It is so lovely and efficient for an elderly person–or for anyone, really. I mean, I could live there, myself, happily, if I could line the walls with bookcases. I see there is lot of room along that wall with the TV cabinet and behind the couch. Excuse me for saying that but ever room I see affects me like that (and I start thinking, “I could put a long bookcase, THERE and THERE…oh, and a little one right THERE”). So I feel relieved about John’s mother. But you have worked so hard and dealt with hours of her emotional upheaval. You are exhausted. So be kind to yourself and go ahead and be bitchy, cranky, bossy and ornery–you deserve the break.
    luv, Annie

    1. I think she loves the new place. I offered to hang a grouping of about 30 framed family photos, but she wanted it simpler. John and I both felt we could live there too.
      She doesn’t read much…vision isn’t great, so bookcases aren’t a priority.
      We have bookcases in living room, dining room, my office, john’s Office and basement. We need to start paring down.

      1. The place is really lovely. Better kitchen than mine. I do think about living in a place that efficient. but the reality would probably not suit. I tried paring down a little (ha ha), Lynn. And now I buy mostly Kindles, but a Kindle doesn’t cuddle up like a book so I still need my Old Friends and their shelves to live on.

  3. I’ve had to do that three times and it was not easy. All three of them were ultimately happy with their new surroundings. I don’t think I will be if it ever comes to that. My default is bossy and cranky. That is why we get along. Kiss.

  4. Great story Lynn, We had no idea how stressful and hardworking you two were in Chicago with John’s mother. I am glad that she is getting along in her new apartment and taking her prescribed medications as indicted. The medication box and notes are an excellent way for her to see her daily needs. Take care.

  5. I think this is my favorite post/article you have written Lynn. Poignant, honest, humorous, spot-on. My dad has been gone over 10 years but your writing took me back to the exhausting-love times of hospice and then the Herculean task of preparing his house to be sold after he passed. It had been our family home for 45 years…and he had a touch of hoarder instincts (think check books from the 60s). He had felt bad/guilty in hospice knowing the archeological dig that was coming my way. I lovingly turned to him and said “Don’t worry Dad, it’s no concern. (Pause as I smiled and squeezed his hand) You know what I am just grateful for? “ What, he asked. “That you didn’t have a basement.” He laughed. Yes, snarky and loving can be a good combination in the best and worst of times. Keep writing!

  6. Oh, Lynn, you’re a rock star. Mitzi is very lucky to have all of you to help her deal with this big change with loving kindness.
    Love your blogs, by the way.

    1. The sticky notes just lasted a week, but I think they helped imbed the importance of regularly taking her pills. And then she was a grownup (a tidy one, at that) and took them down. A good sign I think.

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