Health and wealth vanishing, her next step would be a nursing home. Living in unfamiliar terrain, she would be cared for by strangers.
“I don’t want to be a burden,” she said. “You are so busy.”
“I want you to come, Mom. So does Don. We built a guesthouse for you years ago. It ‘s just been waiting for you,” I replied.
“Marge, they want you there. It’s what family is all about. They wouldn’t have asked if they didn’t mean it,” was the reasoning Mom could finally hear from a distant relative.
My brother, Fred, and his wife had helped Mom as she aged living in a place where old people congregate. They all move slowly there, assisted by walkers and wheel chairs. Fred’s own health problems meant he could no longer help her. She could not take care of herself.
When Mom’s hearing deteriorated, Fred got her hearing aids and a television that showed subtitles. It wasn’t long before the hearing aid failed her and the only way to communicate with her by written notes. Her mind was sharp but her body inched its way to poor health.
Her frequent, unexplainable dizzy spells and falls increased.
She needed assistance getting around, making and going to doctor appointments, cooking, bathing and so forth.
Fred could not accompany her on the 1,000 mile journey to me. When she finally agreed to come, I hurried home to ready her guesthouse. She needed ramps for her walker and wheel chair, grab bars in the shower. There were her belongings to unpack and arrange before she arrived.
As I sat tearfully at the administrator’s desk, she suggested I hire a young African American aid who worked at the facility to escort Mom to Tucson. There was no one else, I decided to rent-a-son.
I explained to Mom that Steven, the young black man, would drive her to the Oakland airport. If she needed anything during the two-hour direct flight, he would help her. “I’ll be waiting at the other end,” I said thinking she might be frightened since she had only flown two other times in her 87 years.
“I’d like to stop at Fred’s to say good-bye,” she replied. She had that twinkle in her eye that told me she was excited about this small adventure.
Years before, when Mom had to give up driving her four-wheel drive vehicle over the back roads, she gracefully gave her car to my niece.
The only time I remember her complaining was once near the end of her life when I was turning her in her bed and she exclaimed “ouch.”
While I was frantically cleaning and getting ready for her arrival, friends called and told me I was nuts. “You’ll have no freedom. It’ll kill your marriage. You’ll get isolated. Put her in a care home.”
There wasn’t time to think about my mental health. I rushed to the airport to pick up my mom. A long time ago, I had seen a poster put out by the National Association of Social Workers that read “Return the Gift of Caring” underneath a picture of an elderly person. Deep in my heart, I know that caring for one another is what families and communities have always done.
She radiated a big grin as Steven pushed the United Airlines wheel chair to the curbside where my husband and I were waiting.
“How was your flight?” I wrote on an erase board.
Behind her back, I paid Steven the $200 I had promised him.
“When she had to use the bathroom, I stood guard outside the door and helped her get back up. We had fun on the trip,” Steven reported.
He reached down and gave Mom a lingering hug. A tear escaped my eyes as I reached over and hugged Steven, thanking him.
“It’s what families do. We look out for each other. You have a wonderful mother.”
This I believe. It’s what we do: Return the gift of caring.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.