When my mom and dad were in their 70s, they asked me (I was still an architect then) to figure out where in their house they could put a three-piece bathroom on the ground floor. They had been living there for more than twenty-five years, and had no desire to move. They wanted to make the house as senior-friendly as possible, in anticipation of the day when they could no longer climb stairs or get around as well as they used to. Mind you, at this point they were still gallivanting around the world, having a grand time!
But the neighbourhood (in a suburb of Boston) was changing. All the neighbourhood children had left home, many of my parents’ friends were moving, and their street, which used to be a classic New England tree-canopied Main Street, was brimming with traffic; the trees were dying. My folks had a “pipe dream” of moving to Cape Cod, to be near the ocean, but never thought they could afford it. Then one day they had a call from a friend who had moved to the Cape – a little year-round cottage had come available, at a price that was almost the same as they could get for the 4-bedroom Victorian I had grown up in. They went for it!
The summer after my Dad’s eightieth birthday, they made the move. The couple who sold the home to them were moving into a retirement home; my Dad quipped about “us young folks” taking it over. My parents were fortunate in that they both had pensions and did not need to live on the equity in their home, but they still benefitted from reduced maintenance and utility costs. And life on the Cape was good.
After seven happy years on the Cape, my Dad passed away. Mom had become very involved in her new community; they were her support network – all of us kids lived at least 4 hours away (me, in Canada!) Once again, she had no desire to move.
Then, four years later, Mom had a “dizzy spell” that landed her in the hospital. (I later learned that it had been a mild heart attack.) My brother Ted made the trip down from Montpelier, Vermont, to be with her. Mom decided that it just wasn’t fair to ask her son to make a four hour trip every time she got dizzy, so when she got home from the hospital she put the house up for sale and started making plans to move to Vermont.
So it was that, at age 84, my Mom pulled up roots and started a new life in a rental apartment in Montpelier. When I’d go to visit, she’d tell me that everyone in Montpelier was very nice, but that she still hadn’t found a “soul mate.” Having family around helped, but social being that she was, she missed having friends with common interests. But she kept at it, and eventually found her place in the community, enjoying bridge, a book club, and discussion groups at church, where she found a few like-minded people she could call friends.
Still fiercely independent, Mom made it through open heart surgery at age 89 and then a broken hip at 91, returning each time to her own apartment. She did relent and decide to take advantage of the Meals on Wheels program in the community. Then one day, after putting together a simple supper for herself, she realized she felt too tired to eat it! That was that! She contacted the lovely retirement home just down the street from her apartment and told them she was ready to move in, as soon as a room came available. A short while later, she distributed all but a few of her remaining furnishings and household goods and once again made a move.
Not that this slowed her down – if anything it gave her a new lease on life. She had a key to the place so she could let herself in when she came back late. She had given up her driver’s licence a few years before, after a few close calls, but she found ways to get around. And Montpelier is a very walkable city.
But time marches on, and health issues continued to appear. By the time she reached 95, Mom was needing more daily care than the staff at the retirement home could provide. A decision had to be made: should she go into a nursing home, or should she move in with my sister, who had by then also relocated to Montpelier. Sue insisted that she and her husband had chosen the house they had purchased because there would be room for Mom if the need arose, and she would be quite happy to have Mom move in. Mom said, “I think you’re crazy, but I’m very grateful!” and accepted Sue’s invitation.
And I am very grateful for such a good natured mother and sister. The ensuing years were not easy for either of them, as Mom needed greater and greater levels of care. But Mom was appreciative and Sue was patient and they made it work, with the help of brother Ted and the services available in the community.
At age 98 Mom was rapidly losing ground, spending more and more of the day nodding off. Sue and the family physician put their heads together and agreed that the time had come to let Mom have the peace and quiet of the nursing home. She entered Woodridge Nursing Home at the beginning of June 2011 and less than a month later, slept her way to her final rest.
I only hope that I can navigate my own senior years with the same grace and consideration that my mother evidenced. She would often say, “What did I do to deserve such a wonderful family?” With her as an example, all of her children can easily answer that question!