Part III My 80-year-old Stay-at-Home Mom

Mom with Bob and Me 1947

Mother and Dad were in the habit of sitting outside their house on pleasant evenings. This began at their suburban home in St. Louis, where they had a flagstone patio and could expect neighbors from the two other houses on the block to join them, at least on weekends. They had the same ritual when they moved to Dallas and built a weekend cottage 50 miles to the north, which grew into their primary home when Dad retired. It was then they bought the Golden Retriever, Matt.

Their last move together, to a smaller home in a town near Austin, they made a little “lookout” on the raised corner of their front lawn; that was the only certain way they might meet the other people in that neighborhood, as most of them were younger. From their outdoor living room, they would wave encouragingly to the parents with strollers, Matt wagged his tail, and the dog-walkers often came up the bank to stand or sit and talk for a while, and let the pooches sniff each other.

Mother also loved to plant and trim her garden beds, from as long as I can remember. Therefore, when she came to live with us, even though she had caregivers who could take her (with the dog) out for drives, she couldn’t walk for very long. She needed places at home to just sit comfortably and watch the birds. One of the things we provided was her private back porch. By simply making one of her bedroom windows into a door, and closing off the original door (which now would enter our shower), she had an exit that we didn’t share unless we were invited.

The more public space was made with blood, sweat and tears. I exaggerate the tears, although the slow DIY process was frustrating. Our yard maintenance worker and my husband raised the earth into a large platform at the level of the front door, which is on the side of the house, not facing the street. They covered it with flagstone so that we now had a substantial patio area, enough for six chairs and (to one side) what I called “the Zen pond.” The basin with plants is a focal point and the bubbler at the center a delight to hear when the temperatures are warm.

Our street is a major pedestrian-bikeway. From her new lookout behind the plants, Mother could sit and watch university students riding by, the ROTC drill, track runners, parents with strollers, and people walking dogs – and sometime people did stop and talk to her, as before.

This kind of continuity in Mother’s end-of-life made all the difference. I think it would have been cruel to force her into a group living situation that was somewhat regimented. It cost her no more to do it her way, and perhaps less. It also blessed me with an opportunity to know my mother again, as we hadn’t been able to see each other very often over about 40 years. She eventually remarked that the mountains around Tucson are beautiful. The night she tickled me, as if I were a child, I knew she felt at home.

NOTE: In-home Care here in 2002-2005 cost $13 an hour. The very basic monthly rent in an Assisted Living setting she might have accepted was $2500, with a point system for added requests like walking a dog or help with a shower. There was no guarantee that the dog would not be declared “unmanageable” by staff. We knew mother. We did the math.

3 comments to Part III My 80-year-old Stay-at-Home Mom

  • Hello,
    How Pandora, the jar, fire, and grain explain humanities place in the cosmos?
    Really great post, enjoyed reading it. Thanks

    • karen

      You were caught in my spam but I let you out, because I want to remind everyone that my nutritionist says it’s a good idea to start each day with blended fresh fruit. Did you know we can digest fruit in 20 minutes? That’s pretty helpful when you want to get your system working and enjoy all day.

  • Mary Lee Winnie

    I enjoyed the photo and the glimpse into your Mom’s last years. My own Mom needed more care than I could provide but we did eventually convince her to let us take her to our city. She learned that her many friends were unable to visit her in the local assisted living home because they could no longer drive. Age separated them no matter where they lived.

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