As you read this I am probably in transit as part of a 48-hour flurry to cancel appointments, pack-and-grab bags and get up to Fargo from Texas to attend to Dee, my mother-in-law. She is 92, and trying her best to get home to her apartment. The hospital professionals are trying to decide what to do about her broken back, and where she should go next. She wants to continue to live her life alone in an apartment, and have her nightly Manhattan (or two) for the foreseeable future. At this point, that’s a tough call, and somebody’s got to help her consider alternatives. In our family, that’s me.
For those of you who have already worked through the transitions with elderly relatives, I salute you. For those of you still reading this, maybe you’re thinking like I am, that it’s time to take off the training wheels and get ready to face what your own future will look like. Maybe you’re in a helping profession, and wonder why this woman isn’t better prepared. If so, please add your comments below, because I’m looking for all the advice I can get (by the way, this article started in an airport as an ode to WIFI and web-assisted self-help).
I know there are many helpful organizations, such as the Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) and thousands of professionals who support elderly care. Unfortunately, we don’t keep all those contact in our address books and they don’t answer phones at midnight. I’ve lived through the diagnosis and painful relocation of relatives for Alzheimer’s care. What I am NOT prepared to do is discuss transitions with a woman who is fully sentient, and has excellent reasons to continue to live independently, and without physical barriers to the rest of the world. It’s kind of like buying a refrigerator – until it breaks down you don’t think about where to get a new one, and then there’s a flurry of research, calling & driving to get it done before everything melts.
I really love Dee, and we have grown quite close over 30 years, including some great explorations. She is a strong woman, a sturdy redwood who has lived through the ravages of depression and hard work. I know she wants to keep enjoying and exploring the world, as do I.
We all know time eventually curtails our options, but we never really know how or when what we know as life will be less. I expect that my sadness has more to do with my own reticence to face these changes than the prospect of what comes next for her. No doubt when we are together tomorrow, she will be the one who guides the other through these dark passages.