Sunday afternoon at Mom’s
“Hey Mom. MOM. HELLOOO.”
“Oh, I didn’t hear you come in. Wasn’t expecting you.”
“Your TV is really loud. I’m going to turn it down.”
“YOUR TV IS….”
“I was just watching the golf.”
“Yes, it’s amazing. The BC guy might just win!”
“Mom, do you have your hearing aids in?”
“I think there’s a guy from BC.”
“MOM, I THINK YOUR BATTERIES ARE DEAD.”
“So, what’s up?”
“GIVE ME YOUR HEARING AIDS.”
I take the tiny flesh-tone units from her 94-year old hands and investigate them. Sure enough the batteries are in upside down. I fix them, put them in her delicate ears and make sure to drape a bit of her silver hair over top so no one can see the fixtures.
“So the guy from BC is actually born in Moose Jaw. Isn’t that neat?”
“Yes, I think they said something about him getting married.”
“Yes, Mom, and if he wins this tournament, which he likely will, he will go to the Masters and have to cancel his honeymoon.”
“So are they mostly retired people?”
“The golfers. How do they have all this time to golf?”
“They are in their 20’s and 30’s.”
“So what do they do for a living?”
“This. They golf. This is what they do.”
“So is that the guy from BC?”
“No, that’s the other guy. He’s 24!”
“Where’s he from?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Is he married?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why is there snow on the golf course? Where is it being played?”
“That’s not snow. It’s sand in the bunker. Florida, I think. Let me clean your glasses.”
“LET ME CLEAN YOUR GLASSES.”
Anyway, that’s a typical encounter with my dear Mom who lives in one of those posh cruise-ship like retirement homes with the dining rooms, and sports bars, and such. She’s one of the lucky ones, having sold her condo in a desirable area six years ago netting enough to live rather comfortably on, for a while at least, we think.
As the designated daughter living close by, I am very much involved in Mom’s life. Like daily. I have the luxury of time and good health to be her care-aid, companion, driver, financial manager, and social outlet. There are many seniors in her residence who do not have such support. They may have relatively good food, hotel style services, and organized activities at their fingertips, but they have no one holding their hand, reminiscing about their shared life, gossiping about their family and friends, or caring about the state of their clothes.
Independent living is the term. I’m learning all kinds of terms these days. When Mom suffered a stress fracture a month ago, and subsequently landed in the hospital where she received the unwanted gift of a Gastrointestinal Bug, I received a crash course in housing options for seniors needing higher care. I told my friends, I felt like a pinball bouncing off the bumpers and pegs of the “health care system”. I was flailing about really, getting mixed messages and half-information from well meaning but over-whelmed government workers. Everyone’s patience, including Mom’s, was wilting away in the midst of the stressful snowfalls and gloomy political environment of those days.
To my understanding, there are three levels of care that elderly citizens can access. Either through government subsidy or private pay, seniors who do not or can not live in their own homes anymore, can live in Independent Living, Assisted Living or Complex Care accommodations in an increasing number of developments in BC. If you have the luxury of private funds, a posh place like Mom’s is about $4,000.00 a month for a 1-bedroom unit. That includes meals, linen service, house keeping, activities, and a sense of security. If you need Assisted Living, in that you can’t direct your own health care, or make your way independently through the building and “down for meals”, the private pay scenario, which often means a move to a different facility, is around $6,000.00. That gives you one shower a week. If you want more than that, you can pay more. In Assisted Living, you give up a lot of personal autonomy and privacy. Doors are not locked, treasures can not be kept secure, seatmates can be quite a bit further along the aging process and rooms look more like hospital settings than cruise ship suites.
If the need for medical assistance is beyond drug dispensing and minimal nursing care, then Complex Care is the next step on a path with a definite end. I’m not sure how much this would cost, but I believe the public health care system kicks in at that point. The landscape of life for aging seniors is a bit elusive. There are, at times, mirages of wonderful options, where you feel you can finally take a deep breath and things are going to be just fine. Then a leg breaks or a financial statement shocks you into the reality that your parent and their nest egg are more fragile than you think.
I’ve said more than once, over the last few months, this time in my life seems so un-expected and unstable. There’s no “What to Expect, When You’re Expecting” or Dr. Spock guidebooks for this phase, it seems. Probably because growing old is so different for every human. No one can believe Mom is 94. She looks 74. My friend’s mom is 74. Some friends have elderly parents living far away and others have parents living close by who don’t recognize them or life anymore. I play crib with my mom and she often beats me. She keeps asking me if my outfits are new.
I read Jann Arden’s beautiful blogs about her beloved mom and life with a loved one suffering with Alzheimer’s. And I realize that each of us has completely different roads to walk with our parents and grandparents because unlike our babies and toddlers and teens and college students, who we wrangled through life, the people we end up caring for and “mothering” come in so many different forms. The senior phase can be a 30-year chapter.
In the pinball game of my current life, I’m bouncing back and forth between two posts in the middle of the field. Mom is back in her lovely retirement residence, getting help in the mornings by out-sourced care-aids to shower, get dressed, have breakfast, and exercise a bit. And then she’s on her own for the rest of the day. Well, she’s got me. I’ll be seeing her this afternoon with a basket of her clean personal laundry, a container of fresh made banana bread, and maybe something fun to show her on my Facebook app on my cell phone. She’ll ask me if that baby giraffe has been born yet, and I will give her the update. Her broken leg is healed but now she needs a crown on her front tooth and some new batteries for her hearing aids.
By the way, 29 year-old Adam Hadwin won that golf game on Sunday and earned $1.1 million for the effort. He is going to the Masters. Mom and I will watch the tournament together and cheer him on.