Archive | December 2012


My mom gets ridiculous amounts of junk mail. A lot of it is from conservative political organizations that my dad supported; some of it still comes addressed to him five years after his death. As we get ready to move Mom to assisted living, I’m trying to keep all that junk mail from following her. She got taken in by a Reader’s Digest “sweepstakes” scam recently and spent over $300 on merchandise she didn’t even want, just trying to stay in the contest.

I was thinking of just not putting a forwarding order in at the post office, but that puts the burden on me to make sure everybody who needs to know her new address has it. And I’m a little concerned that I might miss someone or something important.

More than one person has suggested that I have her mail forwarded to my house, send along the things she actually needs, and just write “deceased” on the junk mail and send it back. It makes sense, but the idea of writing “deceased” next to my mom’s name creeps me out. As a writer, I’ve always believed that words have the power to shape reality. Writing “deceased” on my mom’s mail feels like tempting fate.

And I am NOT ready to lose her. Not yet.

This entry was posted on December 27, 2012. 1 Comment

Christmas Past and Christmas Present

Watching “A Christmas Story” on TBS today, I started thinking about everything my mom did to make Christmas special when I was growing up. I can’t remember a single Christmas of my childhood when what I wanted most wasn’t under the tree on Christmas morning. She encouraged me to believe in Santa Claus, even buying (and hiding) separate wrapping paper after I commented innocently at age four, “Mommy, Santa uses the same wrapping paper you do!” We baked Christmas cookies together. She rarely baked, but once a year she made a special Christmas bread with candied fruit and nuts. (I keep hoping I’ll find her recipe for that bread as I go through the kitchen things.) Christmas dinner was always something special – turkey with dressing, or occasionally ham or Cornish hens, fluffy mashed potatoes, candied sweet potatoes, and at least two kinds of pie – all made from scratch. The rest of the year she took shortcuts in cooking and was all about convenience, but not at Christmas.

Every other year we went to Ohio to spend Christmas with Mom’s big extended family. I remember Christmas Eve dinners at my Aunt Ellen’s house, a happy chaos of noisy kids and Uncle Fritz dressing up as Santa Claus. I remember watching The Waltons Christmas specials and calling out to each other from our beds on Christmas night, “Goodnight, Mom. Goodnight, Susan. Goodnight, John Boy.” I remember the year that my cousins and I snuck out of our beds in the pre-dawn to inspect the gifts that “Santa” had left under the tree and the year that we finally deduced, beyond reasonable doubt, that our mothers were really Santa Claus.

The years in between, when we spent Christmas at home because it was my dad’s turn to be on call at the hospital, Mom went overboard with the presents. She’d wrap up silly things like packs of gum and packages of cookies just so there would be a mountain of wrapped gifts beside the tree. There would always be a tangerine in the toe of my Christmas stocking – a tradition left over from her childhood in the Depression, when tropical fruit was a rare treat.

No matter where we were, my mom made Christmas magical. Now it’s my turn to make Christmas special for her.

Last night I took her to the Christmas Eve service at her church. Singing “Silent Night” I put my arm around her shoulders, felt her arm slip around my waist, and then the tears were streaming down my cheeks and I could hardly sing the second verse around the lump in my throat. I was keenly aware how precious this time together is, how blessed I am to be sharing this Christmas with her.

I planned a traditional Christmas dinner. I had to take some shortcuts because, with Mom moving next week, it didn’t make sense to buy all the ingredients to make things from scratch or to have leftovers for weeks. I bought a ham steak instead of a whole ham and a pre-made pecan pie. But I went to three grocery stores looking for Yukon Gold potatoes to make the perfect mashed potatoes. I finally settled on something called Klondike Gold potatoes, thinking they would be close enough. I was wrong. When they turned out gluey instead of light and fluffy, I could have cried. This may be the last Christmas dinner I ever cook for my mom, and I so wanted it to be perfect. But she ate them anyway and she raved about my candied sweet potatoes. And when we said goodnight, she hugged me tight and told me that Christmas was special because of me.

I love you, Mom. Merry Christmas.


Emotional Moments

I expected packing up my mom’s things to stir up some emotions, but I wasn’t expecting to find myself in tears my first morning here when I opened the cupboard to get a tea bag and saw this.


There’s nothing special about this teapot, except that I gave it to her when I was a girl. I can’t remember where I got it or even how old I was, so it’s likely that my dad actually paid for it. What I do remember is that this teapot was a replacement for the old family teapot that had been handed down to her… and that I broke. Or maybe my dog Heidi broke it, jumping up and pulling on the tablecloth. I can’t remember. But seeing that teapot in the cupboard for some reason reduced me to tears.

And everywhere I look – in the computer desk, in the drawers of the Bible stand, an entire drawer of her big antique dresser – there are greeting cards. I swear she’s saved every birthday card, Christmas card or Mother’s Day card she was ever sent. In her nightstand were several years’ worth of Valentine’s Day cards from my dad. I wouldn’t have said that my father was ever a particularly romantic man. He certainly wasn’t given to outward expressions of emotion, either verbal or physical. But these cards, some of them downright mushy, tell a different story. “All my love, always,” he had signed one of them. My parents were married for 44 years and these cards were sent in the last decade of their time together. I remember they used to hold hands a lot when I was a little girl, but I hadn’t witnessed any such displays of affection in a very long time. It makes me glad to know that the love was still there, right up until he died.

I was blindsided by grief yesterday when I came across the announcement and program from my wedding tucked in between a couple of my mom’s books. So much hope there, so much love… and so short lived. We were madly in love until the day he died, but we had only six short years together and less than a year as husband and wife. Sometimes I envy my mom – 44 years and a family with the man she loved. I hope it’s not too late for me to find a love that will last into old age.


I arrived at my mom’s apartment around 9:30 last night, after a long day that began at 5:00 a.m. and included almost 8 hours of driving with a migraine.  I looked around the place that has been my home away from home for the last four years, and instead of finding comfort in the familiar surroundings all I could see was the hundreds of things that needed doing. And that was just the moving-related stuff. I began to understand just how overwhelming the logistics of this move must be to my mother, who is old and tired and no longer has the mental capacity to keep track of so many details.

This morning started with physical therapy at 8:00. Then I took her over to the new assisted living community to sign the move-in paperwork and pay the first month’s rent. What I thought would be a quick trip took two and a half hours. She was worn out when we got home and took a nap, while I:

  • got groceries
  • picked up packing boxes and tape
  • did her laundry
  • fixed dinner
  • managed to pack just three boxes before I hit the wall.

It’s clear that I grossly underestimated the task of managing her day to day care while preparing for her move. I have no idea how it’s all going to get done in ten days. Right now I’m feeling completely overwhelmed.

This entry was posted on December 21, 2012. 1 Comment

Not Just Forgetful

My mom jokes about how forgetful she is. That’s nothing new. Ever since I was in high school she’s had to write things down in order to remember them, and I’m the same way. I’m a heavy user of “to do” lists, and without electronic calendars that send me reminders I’d miss half of my appointments. The last time I visited her, in fact, we were late for her doctor’s appointment because I forgot to look up driving directions (and didn’t have my GPS). When things like that happen, we laugh about how it’s obvious I’m her daughter and come by this forgetfulness honestly.

But it’s not just forgetfulness anymore. It’s not just an inability to remember whether it was Tuesday or Wednesday when she got a particular phone call. I talked to her for almost an hour last night. This morning her friend asked if I’d called and she said no, she hadn’t heard from me. That whole conversation about the reasons why she needs to move to assisted living sooner rather than later had been wiped from her memory. If she can’t recall the conversation, it makes sense that she can’t remember later how we arrived at the decision. I expect we’ll have to have that conversation several times over the next couple of weeks.

I called her on my lunch hour today to talk to her about attending the holiday party at the assisted living community and how they think it would be a good idea for her to get acquainted with her new roommate before she moves in. I explained that her friend Karen can take her there after her hair appointment and that someone from the facility will bring her home after the party. Mom looked at her calendar and agreed that this would work out in terms of timing. Then she asked me, in a tone of bewilderment, “What do I do now?”

Tears stung in my eyes. She sounded so confused, so lost… and I didn’t know exactly what she was asking or how to help. Was it simply a question about whether other arrangements needed to be made for her to attend the holiday party, or more than that? What do I do now, as my memory slips away from me and I grow increasingly confused?

“It’s all set, Mom,” I answered gently. “You don’t need to do anything.”


Two weeks ago my mom agreed to move into an assisted living community. She put down a deposit on a “friendship suite,” which she will share with a lady named Margie. She’ll have her own bedroom but will share the living room, kitchen and bathroom. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s all that was available on short notice. They’ve put her at the top of the waiting list for a one bedroom apartment of her own, but there’s no telling how long it might be before one comes available. Mom has been enthusiastic about moving into a community with so much going on, where she’ll be around people and won’t have to be alone so much. Every time we’ve talked about it, even over the phone I could tell her pale blue eyes were sparkling.

Today the dear family friend who has been checking on her daily, reminding her to take her medications and driving her to her appointments warned me that she’s been getting some “push back” from Mom on this plan. The last few days Mom has been telling her that she doesn’t want to move into the friendship suite; she wants to just stay where she is until a one bedroom becomes available. Knowing this, it was with some trepidation that I picked up the phone to call my mom tonight.

She was so pleased to hear that I’ll be there on Thursday evening; she couldn’t remember the day and thought I wasn’t coming until Friday or Saturday. We talked about what’s going on this week. About ten minutes into our conversation, she told me there’s something she wants me to pray about. “I’ve been thinking,” she said. “Why am I moving now and putting my things in storage? Why don’t I just wait until there’s a single apartment available and move all at once?” She sounded genuinely perplexed, as if she knew there’d been a good reason for the decision to move now but couldn’t recall what it was.

I took a deep breath. “Well, here’s the way I’ve been thinking about it. I want you to move sooner rather than later because I would feel so much better knowing that if anything happened to you – if you fell or got sick or something – there are people right there who can take care of you. You’re alone too much where you are now and I worry about that.”

“Oh, okay,” she said. Her tone was one of absolute acceptance.

I proceeded with the argument I’d planned all afternoon, about how once she’s in the community she can be certain of actually being at the top of the list and getting the next available one bedroom… but it didn’t seem to matter, really. She’d accepted my first answer – “because I worry about you” – and that was good enough. The same way I’d accepted without question when, as a child, I asked her if Santa Claus was real and she assured me that he was.

We talked a bit more about logistics and I reassured her that I can handle everything, that these things that seem overwhelming to her (renting a storage unit, selling some of her furniture, hiring movers) are things I’ve done lots of times. “We’ll take care of that when I get out there.”

“When are you coming?” she asked. “Is it Thursday?”

Yes, Mom. I’ll be there Thursday evening. She told me how much she’s looking forward to seeing me and we signed off with I love yous.

Our family friend commented today on how much Mom trusts me with important decisions and arrangements. That’s kind-of scary, if you ask me. I don’t know when this happened, when she went from being the overprotective mama who couldn’t trust me to handle my own life to trusting me with hers. Was it really that long ago that we were arguing about my bad relationship choices and why I didn’t go to church? A lifetime ago, I guess it was. We were both different people then.

The Wake Up Call

The day after Thanksgiving, my 84-year-old mother ended up in the hospital. She was involved in a three car accident (thankfully no one was hurt), got a citation for “failure to control” her vehicle and another for her two years expired tags, and went on her way with a crunched front fender and broken headlight. She was trying to find a grocery store but got lost and then couldn’t remember how to get home. Apparently she pulled in at her local hospital to ask for directions, and the young man working the front desk was attentive enough to realize that she needed more assistance than simple directions. He got her a seat and called a nurse to talk to her. After learning that she’d just been in a car accident, the nurse suggested they check her out to make sure she wasn’t injured. Her blood pressure was 200/100 and she was more than a little confused, so she was admitted.

She spent four days in the hospital while they ran tests and tried to bring her blood pressure down. They initially suspected a minor stroke, but both the CT scan and MRI came back negative. She didn’t seem to understand why she was in the hospital. The first time I talked to her, she told me it was because they were concerned about her blood pressure. When I asked her about it the next day, she said “There’s nothing wrong with my blood pressure.” According to both the nurses and the friends who visited her, there were times when she was lucid and fairly sharp, though forgetful… and then there were times when she couldn’t answer simple questions appropriately. The doctors and case managers were extremely reluctant to discharge her to go home alone.

It was a wake up call for all of us.

My dad died five years ago today. The first year or so after his death was rough for Mom, both emotionally and physically – she lost their house to foreclosure and was hospitalized with pneumonia. But we got her moved into a really nice apartment with great neighbors and for the last three years she’s been doing just fine, or at least that’s how it seemed from here.

I live in another state, seven hours drive away. I visit three times a year on average. My last visit was just a little over two months ago, in late September. I noticed some things that concerned me then, like the fact that she had food stains on a couple of her blouses and had hung them back on the rack with the clean clothes. Her bathroom was filthy, like it hadn’t been cleaned in months. The kitchen wasn’t much better. There wasn’t much in her fridge besides eggs, lunch meat, condiments and a big jug of sugary flavored creamer for her coffee. I spent the first two days of my visit cleaning the apartment, doing her laundry and stocking up on groceries. I knew something wasn’t right, that we needed to start planning for the day when she couldn’t live alone anymore. I just didn’t know that day was coming so fast.