Life with My Elderly Parent

She once had a mind like a steel trap… now there are perceptible holes that no one can fix.

My mother at 38 years old.

My mother turned 79 this past March and has lived with my family for some time. At the end of the week, my husband and I are accompanying her to meet with a coordinator so that she can be approved to live in an assisted living facility.

While I was gathering her paperwork required for the meeting, I broke down in tears. Even as I write this I am caught up in a wave of emotions. She is my mother. The brave woman that came to America on her own to start a new life. She is the woman who never missed a tennis meet or piano recital, and encouraged me in all things academic.

A few months ago she expressed her fear of forgetting things. I told her she didn’t need to worry about that because she was such a good record keeper. A month later, I noticed that she has begun to forget things. Small things like a comment she made seconds before or telling her something only to have her ask me the same question three or four more times. When I say, “I already told you,” she gets really quiet and sits down on the couch to write something down in her binder. I have no idea what it is that she’s writing, but it breaks my heart to see her like this. I can see it in her face that she doesn’t like what’s happening, but also doesn’t want to admit it. She once had a mind like a steel trap, as my stepdad once said, and now there are perceptible holes that no one can fix.

She’s been having vivid dreams of those who have passed on. My grandmother, her brother Reuben who died in his 20’s and most recently my stepdad. We found out he passed away this past December. He had a short-temper during my childhood that only became worse as he got older. They lived in an apartment on Geary St. in San Francisco, so when they argued the neighbors would check up on my mother to make sure she was okay. He had never hit her, but she didn’t wait around for it to happen. She had enough and filed for divorce.

After that dream, she has hung up pictures of when they were together, all smiles. She now recalls her life with him as a blessing. She no longer berates the man he was, which is a strange thing to witness. After all these years, now he’s a saint? There was a lot of hurt caused by his actions towards her and myself that I have had to forgive. Not an easy task, but once the anger is gone, it is amazing how much better I feel.

She is my biggest critic outside of myself and the first one to tell me “I told you so.”She cannot understand why yelling at children doesn’t make them better people and has an opinion about everything. Here’s a short list.

Cooking: “That’s not going to taste very good. If I were you I would ___.” I don’t follow her directions when it comes to cooking American dishes. Her follow up comment is usually, “Oh, Dais that was sooo good. I’m glad you finally know how to cook!”

Child rearing: “When I was _____ (insert child’s name) age I couldn’t _____.”

For instance, the following conversation happened yesterday.

Isabel and Gage: Can we go outside?

Me: Yes, you guys can go outside.

Mom: In the rain? They are going to get pneumonia.

Me: I have ran 30 miles in the rain. They will be just fine.

Mom: When we were kids we weren’t allowed. We had to carry an umbrella.

Career Choices: “You can still ___.” I haven’t had much of a career unless you count being a mother. She expected me to become something she could brag about to her family back home. Anything I have actually done for a living hasn’t been a big money maker. At 40, I’m still working on that one.

Post-baby body: “Dais, how long will it take you to lose the weight?” As if I don’t already have any issues with my post-baby body. We all know where I’m at with this one.

I try not to get worked up about things she says and realize daily that I can’t change the opinion of a nearly 80 year old. I worry that there will come a day when she won’t remember my name or the names of her grandchildren. I have come to terms with the fact that her time here on earth is waning and I do my best every day to remember that. All I can really do is to continue to love her unconditionally.