My mom is always fond of telling me the story about the day she dropped me off at college for the very first time. As she left me, brave-faced at my dorm room, she stoically took her leave, only to sob the whole car ride home.
That night she was consumed with worry. Would I eat? Would I sleep? Would I make new friends?
Recently, we helped move my mom into assisted living, leaving behind the house of memories she’s accumulated for over 40 years. She’s been there all by herself for the last three, since my dad passed away. But there was simply no denying that the stairs had become too much for her aging knees and the general upkeep of the house and yard were now too much to manage.
My brother and sister and I had gently nudged her over the years to consider taking this step as we gradually began to notice that she needed a bit more help. She was having an increasingly difficult time juggling the complicated schedule of when to take all her pills, as well as sorting and paying her bills. Not to mention, the effort to collect groceries and cook for one was beginning to lose its luster. We all took turns, pitching in, helping her with this-and-that. But things were changing, and we knew it.
But we also knew it had to be her decision. A momentous life decision like this took lots of thought and careful consideration. And we wanted to respect her wishes, and make sure it happened on her timetable.
Then a few months ago out of the blue, as we spent a casual afternoon together, she looked at me and said,
“I think it’s time.”
And so, we put the wheels in motion, putting her house on the market, touring various assisted living communities nearby and began the arduous process of organizing her finances, consulting with various legal professionals, and assembling the necessary paperwork to help her on this new adventure.
Once my mom settled on a place that she liked, the ball began to roll – and quickly. Her house sold, lickety-split. We hired movers and researched a list of non-profit organizations who would eagerly accept donations including linens, household items and furniture she would need to part with, now that she was moving to a much smaller space.
It’s been an incredibly emotional time for her. She’s had to part with many possessions she’s had back when she was a newlywed in the 1950s. Like her treasured dining room set – the first big real purchase she and my dad made as a young couple, just starting out.
But I kept reminding myself that all of these mini-heartbreaks would hopefully reap even bigger rewards. She would be trading it all for a newer, more carefree way of life. A life where she wouldn’t have a care in the world as everything would be taken care of for her.
An endless vacation!
Yesterday was the day. The big move! My mom was a trooper, although truth be told, a bit of a deer-in-the-headlights as she watched the movers juggle boxes of all shapes and sizes containing picture frames and mismatched kitchen dishes. The mementos of a life.
A life that flashed before her eyes.
My sister and I worked fervently to immediately unpack all her belongings and arrange everything, from the placement of her furniture to best accommodate her new apartment floor plan, to putting her linens on her bed, to filling every last drawer of her dresser and closet with her clothing.
We didn’t want her to have to lift a finger.
As that twelve-hour day came to a close and I prepared to leave her as I felt the exhaustion begin to seep in, I wearily walked over to her, gave her a good long hug, kissed her on the cheek and said,
“Mom, you know you call me any time at all, right? Even in the middle of the night. My phone is always on for you.”
She nodded sweetly and reassured me all would be just fine. So, I left her, brave-faced and stoically took my leave.
That night as I lay in bed, I was consumed with worry.
Would she eat? Would she sleep? Would she make new friends?
The beautiful, bittersweet circle of life.
Editor’s Note: Adult children often find themselves at a crossroads when it comes to deciding how to best care for their aging parents. Here are seven subtle signs to look out for to know when they need more help.