“How’s your mom?”
I've been getting that question a lot in the last 18 months. First she had blood clots and then, a year later, had to have her hip replaced. Once she had the surgery and was healed and back home, we had a little respite, but as the second half of last year unfolded, she lost some mobility, had increased pain and just generally stopped being able to do much. She has sort of folded in on herself. She’s more bent, more shuffly, much, much slower. The last couple of months have included two hospitalizations and a month in a rehab facility to work on strengthening her body. I expect that this shouldn't be a surprise. I mean, people get old. But there are old people and elderly people. Today I googled “how old is elderly?” and found an article on NPR.org from March 14, 2013 that says “In the end, ‘elderly’ may be more a state of being – or feeling – than a certain age.”1 Mom was supposed to get old without being elderly.
Mom was a force to be reckoned with when she was younger. She was incredibly active and health-conscious, roller-bladeing around Atlanta and working out at all hours of the day or night. She took a year off of work to travel around the world – she spent time in Australia and China, she trekked in Nepal, and I think she even rode an elephant in Indonesia. She eschewed conventionality, read vociferously, honed her disrespect of authority to a fine point, and just generally danced to her own music.
The damage to her hip is what did her in, I think. Prior to that, she knew she had some degenerative disc issues, but she worked out at the gym and remained active, and was able to keep herself flexible and pretty strong. Once the pain of her hip overwhelmed her, she just couldn't do any of that any more. The surgery to replace her hip certainly made things better for a while, but the months of inactivity allowed other pains and issues to come to the forefront, and it’s been a constant battle for her since.
So the question “how’s your mom?” which used to be answered by regaling the questioner with tales of Mom’s latest conquests, is now answered using the previous day as a point of reference. “She’s much better than she was yesterday.” Or, “She seems much weaker today than she was yesterday.”
Mom is frustrated and scared. Mostly she’s scared that she’ll have to live out her life in increasing pain. And scared that she won’t be able to live independently any more. And, unfortunately, it looks as if both of these fears are not unfounded.
The job my siblings and I have is to help Mom navigate this new reality and help her to find hope. Of course, we also have to make sure she’s taking her meds and eating right, and doing all those other things that her caregivers tell her to do - which can tend to annoy her (see the comment above about her feelings about authority). But that’s the price for having children who love you I guess.
Besides worrying about Mom, the thing that keeps me up at night is knowing that I need to take better care of myself. Mom’s story proves that even the healthiest people are not promised an easy trip up to and through their golden years, but I’m guessing that my chances will be better if I do the things I know I should do. If I’m lucky, it’ll make life better for not only me, but for my children as well. Because the fact of the matter is that at some point I’ll probably have to depend on them the way my mother is depending on my siblings and me. I hope they are kind and loving. And I hope I’m not a complete pain in the arse.
Update: So if you asked me “how’s your mom?” right now, I’d tell you that she had a good day. We’re watching a movie that she can’t really hear and I pause it every once in a while to tell her what’s going on. And a little bit earlier tonight, while Mom was making her way through the kitchen with her walker, my sweet Sara called her “Zippy.” It is important to keep one’s sense of humor.