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).
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. You can only be nice for so long.