Last week I went to a reception for my Mother's cousin Joe Boyd and his wife Betty who were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. The little church was filled with well-wishers. I saw folks I hadn't seen in years. Betty floated around greeting folks while Joe Boyd played mandolin with the bluegrass band that provided the entertainment.
This is the way we all want it to be when we get old. Joe is a little more forgetful than he once was, but he goes to the gym 2 or 3 times a week. Betty's osteoporosis is a worry but other than that she is in reasonably good shape. They have their autonomy, they enjoy pretty good health and they live independently in the home the built in the woods of Grant County.
Not all of us are so lucky. Indeed, from what I have seen lately of the so-called "Golden Years" I would greatly prefer to be crushed by a Steinway concert grand than to go through what some folks endure at the end of life.
One of my brother's father-in-law died the day after Christmas. He was in awful shape. He had a bad ticker despite a couple of bypass surgeries. Last year he was diagnosed with leukemia. He was in constant pain and was confined to a hospital bed they had put up in the house. As if the family didn't have enough to contend with, his wife suffers from dementia. She is loud and combative. The words the sick man uttered with his last breath were "Shut up, Helen."
So much for a peaceful and tranquil passing.
Back in the land of the living, we have to move Mother to the nursing home next Tuesday. She doesn't want to go. As of Friday she had taken to her bed.
" I can't do it son, " she said. "It'll kill me."
" Mom," I said. "The move will not kill you. You're just moving a quarter mile away. You will be at Bob's with the lady who sits up with you while we move everything. You don't have to do a thing."
" But you don't understand. All I have left anymore is my friends. My family certainly doesn't come see me much. I will miss my friends here."
Now this was interesting. She has been at Trillium Park since 1999. This is the first I ever heard any mention of any friends. All she has ever told me is how much she hates it there. But I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt despite her historical penchant for manipulation. After all, it can't be denied that the thought of moving to a new place is stressful to her.
" Mom. You're not moving to a prison. Bob said he will bring you back to have lunch with the ladies you eat with. I'll take their picture and we'll put it up on the wall in your new apartment. And besides, you'll make new friends. Isn't that exciting?"
Silence. She looked away.
" I don't make friends easily," she said to the wall. " I never have."
She turned back toward me.
" Why are you doing this to me? I thought you loved me. I'm just being pushed to the side. Nobody cares what I want."
The lady from Elder Independence that sits with her gasped and covered her mouth. I took off my glasses and covered my eyes with my hand.
"Remain calm." I thought to myself. "Remember Dr. GG said this could happen. This happened five tears ago when we told her she was going to Trillium. She is scared. She is angry that she has no say in the decision. She is also trying to punch my buttons big time."
I got up and sat on her bed. I took her hand.
"Mother" I said. "When I was little it was your job to care of me. And there were times when you made decisions about me that I didn't think were fair and that I didn't like. And while it bothered you to see me upset, you didn't change your mind because you thought the decision you had made, hard as it was, was in my best interests."
" Now I'm no longer little. And it's the time in our lives where it is my job to take care of you. It's my job now. And sometimes I have to make decisions about what is in your best interests whether you like them or not. And just like when you cared for me, the fact that you don't like the decision I have made is not going to change what has to be done on Tuesday. I'm sorry. I wish we didn't have to do this. But we do."
She rolled over and looked at the wall again.
"What is it you say at times like these?" she asked the wall.
Actually, the selection of which blood-curdling oath I might employ at any given time is quite extensive and largely depends on the stress level and the audience at hand. I admit to being curious as to which one might have stuck in her mind.
She rolled onto her back.
"You used to say it when you played.........." She swept her arm through the air.
" Yes." she said, jabbing her finger in the air. "You used to say 'Awwwwwwww DAMN it!' That's what you used to say. Well, that's how I feel right now."
Yep. I used to say that on the tennis court alright. I am only relieved that she's never followed me around on the golf course.
"That's how I feel too, Mother," I said. "That's how I feel too."
Dave went by to see her yesterday before going back to Missouri. He said she seemed pretty much OK about it. He said they discussed the move and she seemed to be much better today. I'm glad. But we shall see what Tuesday brings. No matter what happens, it will not be an easy day.
We all look forward to an active and happy retirement. We pray for a peaceful end. And we hope to stay out of the nursing home in the interim.
But we don't always get what we want. It isn't right and it isn't fair.
And that's why I want to kiss a runaway Steinway before that day comes for me.