“I’d like to walk over to Safeway again. Do you think I could do that, Charlotte?”
“No, Mom. It has been more than two years since you did that. It’s not safe anymore.”
It is such a simple desire. Put on her coat, get her purse, push her walker across the parking lot and over to the automatic door that leads to the elevator. A few steps, a few buttons and the freedom to meander through the grocery store, choosing whatever her heart desired. It was a solitary outing that gave Mom much joy. It also used up a couple of hours in her increasingly long days.
She would chat up the store clerks and other shoppers, buy an O Henry bar, linger in the bakery area, marvel at the offerings, and sometimes sit and have a cup of tea in the little market café by the deli department. It meant she was out in the world on her own, of her own accord, on her own schedule.
Now, a few weeks shy of her 94th birthday, Mom’s world is shrinking in some ways while expanding fearfully in others.
She watches news channels almost exclusively and wonders why they keep re-hashing the same story over and over again, “They are going on and on about Clinton and Chump.” I don’t even correct her on that one.
Her days used to be filled with church and local activities, lots of diverse adventures out and about in the community. Now she spends most of her time in a small apartment in her retirement residence watching the world unfold through her 20 year-old TV.
There is an Assisted Living development going up right next door to her building and she watches the construction workers everyday. “I’ve never seen such a slow project, Charlotte. I don’t think they’ve accomplished anything at all in the last 6 months.” I think she feels anxious that it won’t be finished in time for her.
Her days are scheduled. Meal times at 12:30 and 6:00. Blackjack on Mondays, bingo on Thursday nights. The cast of characters constantly changes even though the activities remain the same. When your seatmates and neighbours are in their 80’s and 90’s, it’s just the way it goes. She doesn’t know anybody’s name anymore.
I visit Mom almost daily. I take her to appointments, to lunch, shopping or just out for some fresh air. I bring her to my place or down to the ocean to sit in the car and watch the waves. She says the exact same things to me during these outings. “Why are there no sailboats out there?” “Can you imagine how on earth they get all the water and sewer services to these homes,” “I don’t know what I’d do without you, Charlotte.” The last one weighs heavy on my mind, long after I kiss her goodbye and return to my own life.
Mom was a prominent and vibrant citizen of the many places she lived throughout her life. She was a journalist, a politician, a volunteer, and a homemaker. She has the Order of Canada for her volunteerism and several other Medals from the Queen. She had an astonishing life that spanned much of the 20th Century. She was born in Botwood, Newfoundland, worked for the USO during World War II, travelled across the country with our Dad and his journalism career, and maintained a continuous commitment to volunteering that still goes on today. She became a widow 36 years ago when our Dad died at the age of 58, and she never married again.
On the same side of her little sofa she knits everyday in front of the TV; her creations going to causes around the world. She raises money for the local hospice society and the Fireman’s Burn Fund. She takes donations every May and August, at a little desk set up in front of the fish tank in the main lounge of the residence.
Sometimes we FaceTime with my sisters, two of whom live in United States and one other in Alberta. She is astonished at the miracle of modern day communications as she acutely remembers taking turns with the headphones as a child to listen to the radio broadcasts in the early 1930’s. She asks me to send photos on the Facebook to her family back in Newfoundland.
I feel an obligation that is born out of love, to make sure Mom’s final chapter is as comfortable and stimulating and befitting as the life she has led. It is a blessing and a burden at the same time to have this role in our family.
My patience is always challenged when our conversations are so repetitious and her opinions are so stuck in the 1960’s. My time is not really valuable in the grand scheme of things, but I often feel constrained in my own journey through life because I have my Mom to consider. But I guess that is what life is, a series of paths to navigate and a continual adjustment to the circumstances you encounter along the way. Many of my friends don’t have their Moms anymore. I know how fortunate I am.
“There are very few sailboats on the water today, because the people that own them are at work I guess, or the wind isn’t right, or they are out playing golf, Mom.”
“I suppose that’s true. Now is that a lake or the ocean?”
“It’s the ocean, Mom.”
“Are we looking at the USA?”
“No, those are the North Shore Mountains. We are facing north.”
“I don’t know how you know your way around, Charlotte. I’d be lost without you.”
“It’s okay, Mom. I know exactly where we are.”
About Charlotte Phillips: She lives in White Rock, B.C. working in Voice and Creative Services. Charlotte contacted us though #Mybackyard wanting to lend her voice and her story to our community. The issue of aging parents is very real for many of us……her perspective is most welcome.
If you would like to be a part of our guest contributor roster, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org