Saturday, February 03, 2007

My mother: there's bad news and there's good news

Those of you who've followed the continuing saga of my 93-year old mother (yes, she just had a birthday) know that she moved back to NY in mid-November. So, how's it going so far?

Well, she hates it.

But she's happy.

And if that seems to be a contradiction--I think I can explain.

My mother complains about the place she lives in. Not her room; that, she admits, is beautiful--high-ceilinged and airy and light and...well, roomy. The bathroom, likewise, and the little kitchenette. No, the physical plant leaves little to be desired.

Her assistants (after all, it is "assisted living") come more or less at their appointed hours, to help her with dressing and getting downstairs and the like. Since her stroke she'd gotten used to having personal caretakers around for about nine hours a day, more or less at her service, and now they come and go only as needed or as called, so I was a bit worried about the change.

But it doesn't seem to be a problem. Actually, she appears to welcome the return of a certain amount of privacy, an unexpected benefit.

So, what is the problem? Two, actually, but they're biggish ones. The first is that she doesn't like any of her fellow residents. What this represents I'm not sure. But I think it's the fact that my mother's mind is (knock wood) basically sound, and most of the others are more--as they say--"cognitively challenged."

And she hates the food. Hates, hates, hates it.

Now, food is an important part of life for most of us, although I hear tell of people who eat to live and don't really enjoy the process all that much. But for the elderly in institutions--even ones as beautiful as my mother's--food assumes an even greater importance in the hierarchy of events than it does for most people. That is to say, mealtimes are a big, big, very big deal.

So if she doesn't like the food, and she doesn't like the company that goes with it, and she doesn't like the activities (too elementary, designed to suit the diminished capacity of so many of the residents)--then Houston, we've got a problem.

Except that we don't, exactly. When I speak to her on the phone, her voice sounds more happy and relaxed than it has in years, with a lilt I haven't heard in a long while. Even her memory--not all that bad to begin with--has improved. She sounds sharper in general.

Reading between the lines, I ascribe her improved mood to the phenomenon I wrote about here: the fact that she's home.

No, it's not her old home. But it's "home" as a community, the place where she grew up, the area she lived in for eighty-eight years before moving to New England to be near me.

And that community--at least so far--has come through for her. She's had lots of visitors (some of them bring the chocolate to which she's become allergic, forcing my brother to confiscate it and take it home with him, poor thing). She's had many more phone calls. She's been out to restaurants--and, what's more, they're not just random restaurants, they're places she knows and loves, with a long and deep history in her life.

Her room looks out over a highway, not the beautiful trees of her previous place, trees that changed with the dramatic New England seasons and offered the spectacle of nature's wonder through her many windows. But my mom's a city gal. Although she appreciated those trees and often remarked on them, now she monitors and reports on the changing traffic and seems happy to do so.

Proving that, in the words of the cliché and Dorothy: there's no place like home-- although the definition of "home" isn't always what you think it will be.

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