I never wanted to lose my independence. I think that started the day I was born, as a 'preemie', back in the early 1900's. My first night was spent wrapped up and warm, resting on the open oven door of the wood stove. The midwife wondering aloud as she left if I'd still be alive in the morning - I must have heard her and decided I'd show her!
I continued with that independent streak all my life. I was a single mother most of the time, bringing up all my children on my own. I started a new career once the children grew up, and even found time to work part time as a lone promoter of the arts in the North. I dated a bit, but decided to stay single, rather than lose that independence to someone else.
Even as I got older I was determined to keep doing things on my own - staying in my own apartment, cooking my meals, vacationing in Mexico, going for walks no matter what the weather, in spite of all the aches and pains of getting older.
My friends all admired me for all the things I could do, but my children were often negative. They said they were just worried. I think it was probably because I didn't fit with their idea of what an ageing mother should be like.
"Mother, you'll freeze, it's cold out today.”
“Mother, that food is all way past its due date."
“Mother, you'll trip and fall again.”
“Mother, your desk is a mess of papers.”
They said they were just worried about me, but I was managing just fine on my own. I did have some setbacks, some lapses, but that's expected when we get older.
Finally they made me hire someone to come in and clean - as if I'd somehow forgotten how.
"Mother, it's only five dollars an hour, it's subsidized, we'll pay."
They didn't understand it wasn't really just the money. I finally did go ahead with it, and had to admit it was a help. My new vacuum was awkward to push around anyway, and I didn't always see the dust balls way under the bed.
Then it was cabs.
"Mother, we've set up an account, go ahead, the bill will just come to us."
I did try to go along with that, but it seemed a shame to not use the bus, or just walk for the fresh air. I could always sit on a bench when I got short of breath. I may have tripped and fallen a few times, when they didn't clean the sidewalks properly, but my years of skiing taught me how to 'tuck and roll'.
Then all their fussing got to the more personal things, like showers and getting dressed and taking my medications. That was too much, and I rebelled.
"Mother, we're worried about your safety. Maybe it's time to go to a retirement home."
That scared me - no way was I going to give up all my independence and be stuck somewhere else, wheeled to my meals, alone in a room or sitting in the lobby with a lot of drooling old people. I agreed to try the extra help, just for a little while. It was sort of nice to be spoiled like that, and I liked to think the other people in the building were a little jealous of me. I did insist on looking after my pills myself though, as I decided I could remember just fine on my own. Some days I'd skip some too - they tried to give us pills for everything, and I knew when I needed them or not.
I liked all those treats I was getting though, and liked the feeling that, in my ninety's, I was still independent. I even started getting meals sent up sometime, just for the convenience, even if they did come much too early for me. I had to have my happy hour first, enjoying some wine and cheese while I read the paper and looked out the window at the lake.
Then I started having some medical problems – nothing big, just some dizzy spells and weak moments. I decided, reluctantly, that maybe it was time to move to somewhere with a bit more care, mostly to reassure my children.
The new place was nice, with my own bright room and friendly staff. My children seemed happier that I had moved too, and put up lots of my art in my room for me. They even made sure the nursing station kept my wine chilled for me to have a glass for my happy hour. Just one glass though, they were always busy when I went back. I'd make sure to save a bit of my lunch too, wrapped up in a napkin to go with my drink. We decided I wouldn't get a little fridge, not yet, as the dining room was not that bad. We did have a few choices on the menu, and it was a relief to not have to shop or clean up. I could even get out for walks too, if I wanted to, as after a few days they gave me the door code. I did go out for a bit, but found the new neighbourhood confusing. I decided to save that for later, once I'd settled in more.
I met some others on my floor, and made friends with some of the workers there too, and tried some of the activities they had. Most of my days were just spent looking out the window of my room – no view of the lake, but a nice courtyard, and some old houses to see up the street too, if I leaned over a bit. I'd read in the morning while my eyes were still good, and maybe have a nap after lunch.
I was glad I could still do my own thing, and not have to worry about shopping, or cooking, or cleaning, or laundry, or waiting for a bus. It was also nice having people there I could depend on for everything, to check on me, to worry about me, to make sure that on my last night there I was able to get sent on to the hospital OK.
Nice evocation of the inevitable decline in faculties. We all like to think we're immune. Self-delusion!
Posted by: Lewis Peters | October 11, 2012 at 08:37 AM
Growing older is something we all have to face. It's good that she can find the positive in being in a home.
Posted by: Rose Green | October 11, 2012 at 09:29 AM
Thanks for the comments. I was trying to show someone gradually giving up independence, part of her OK with it, part of her in denial and rationalizing that shift as it happened. Not sure if she ever realized they were mostly just worried about her safety and comfort.
Posted by: Ravens | October 11, 2012 at 11:15 AM
I like how you showed both sides, the losses and the benefits of having help. It's sad though. Reminded me of my grandma.
Posted by: carol | October 11, 2012 at 11:41 AM
That's a good piece. I didn't want it to end because I enjoyed this old woman's company so much.
Posted by: Tom51n | October 12, 2012 at 03:15 PM