My mother is turning 88 years old in June. Just prior to this past Christmas, she had an episode with her heart that caused her to be in hospital for three weeks. She received wonderful care from the doctors and nurses and has now returned to her home in an assisted-living residence for senior citizens. Now comes then hard part for her, finding the physical and emotional strength to remain being able to live independently.
Home, wherever that may be, is a special place. This is so for a myriad of reasons but, foremost among them is that Home equates with personal freedom. Your home, be it a condo, a starter home, a mobile home, a mansion or something else altogether, is your space. You can live the life you wish to live within the confines of your personal safe haven. Unlike living with your parents, for example, or being a renter, having your own home affords you the opportunity to explore your world as you see fit. Don’t like wearing pants?! Don’t wear them then when you are home! Want to rise with the sun every morning?! Go ahead and start your every day with the golden rays of the sun on your skin. It’s your choice because it is your home. Having personal freedom to make your own choices is one of life’s most enticing elixirs. It is something that, once tasted, is incredibly difficult to stop savouring and desiring as life unfolds.
So, as my mother lay in her hospital bed, our conversation was never just about her getting better. It was always about whether or not she would recover enough to stay in her current home. Or, more to the point, would she be able to recover sufficiently to continue living life on her terms once she left the hospital. The short answer, for now, is yes. My mother is back in her apartment in her assisted-living residence. But, the depth and scope of her choices has lessened as a result of her illness. Instead of leaving the residence to go shopping, as she was able to do in December, she now considers it an accomplishment to walk (with a walker) to the dining room and have her lunch in public. This tires her out and forces her to rest more than before. Not being able to walk very far limits her life choices to those available within her residence. Luckily, her residence…….the place she calls home…is very nice and she is surrounded by people who care for her and who are helping her as she recovers.
But Life is a cruel Master. It gives you the greater part of a lifetime to enjoy the freedom of living how you choose and then, as the end draws near, Life claws back that freedom, incremental block by incremental block. My mother and father married in the 1950s. Before I was born, they travelled to Europe, the U.S and across Canada. My mother was a Registered Nurse, working full-time during a time in the evolution of our society when women were only just starting to have careers outside of the home. After my father’s death when I was just 11 years old, my mother raised my sister and me on her own. Up until the last five years of her life, my mother always lived on her own in a house or apartment and enjoyed a life of great independence. And then, Life presented my mother with a bill that she was unable to pay. The winters grew colder and longer, the storms more intense and her gait less steady on icy walkways and roads. Suddenly, my independent mother began to become fearful when it came time to leave her home; fearful that she would fall and be unable to get up, fearful that she would break a hip, as cliched as that sounds, fearful that she would lose control of her life and the power to make her own decisions.
So, she made a decision. A decision to give up living on her own in her own home and apply for admission into the assisted-living residence where she currently resides. The independence and freedom of having the world as her oyster ceased to exist when she moved. Life collected a portion of its debt and, as a result, my mother’s world shrunk. She still has an apartment but, like all the other residents, she is not the only one with a key to her door. Staff check on her and work to make sure she is safe. If they detect anything that they feel may be unsafe, they can report it to the head supervisor and meetings will be held. For example, my mother has a kitchenette. She was always a great cook in her younger days, but now, she sometimes forgets to turn off a burner or that she has even put a teapot or some eggs on to boil. Meetings were held. My mother has now been asked to not use her oven and to stay in the kitchen if she ever wishes to boil an egg again or else they will have to remove her stove….for safety reasons. To help, we bought her an electric kettle that has an automatic shutoff. A stove is very important to my mother so, she works very hard to remember to turn everything off and to watch her pots when they are boiling but, it is hard for her to always remember. Meanwhile, Life chuckles and readies another bill.
I am not sure how it is in the rest of the world but, in Canada, there are systems in place to help people, like my mother, to transition through the various stages that occur near the end of life. For now, while my mother has been discharged from hospital, she has been provided with in-home support from a personal service worker (P.S.W.) who stops in each day to provide physical therapy, help with food preparation, etc. This is very helpful because neither my sister nor I are geographically close to our mother. This is a public service and was arranged by a social worker who works in the hospital specifically to deal with the elderly and with families who are unsure of how best to help. There are, also, private agencies that, for a fee, will provide workers to assist my mother should she need to leave her residence for an appointment, for example. All of this brings a measure of comfort to those of us far from home.
My mother, also, has her name on a list to move into a nursing home. Regardless of the state of her recovery from her heart illness, the call that a bed has opened up should come within the calendar year, or so we have been told. A nursing home is the next stage available for the elderly. In doing so, she will trade her assisted-living apartment for a room with a bed and a dresser and a chair by the window and round-the-clock care. Her world will shrink again, as will, her ability to make decisions for herself. Following a nursing home, my mother will end up like all do near the end, in a palliative care ward in the hospital. At that point, her world will have shrunk down to the confines of her own skin and bones. And then, she will die. She will. It happens to everyone eventually. Life will collect its debt in full and that debt, once paid, earns the payee the reward of eternal freedom.
My mother has never been one for spontaneous gestures so, I doubt she will opt to jump into a volcano or throw herself off of a mountain peak, all to avoid progressing through the life stages that await and which are beckoning with increasing urgency. I have watched aunts and uncles and my wife’s grandfather, all recently pass away so I am familiar with the stages of decline that occur and, to the person involved, the incremental loss of freedom that happens. For now, I am trying to put on a brave face and be very matter-of-fact about it all but, when each stage comes, my heart will crack a little more and it will be tougher than I expect, I am sure.
But, we are not at the end yet.
When I spoke with my mother yesterday on the phone, she said she was feeling more like herself. I told her that I was happy for her. She is glad to be home. I know she welcomes making her own choices again, after being in the hospital for three weeks. The intoxication of independence is not something given up without a fight. I am lucky that her mind is clear and that she is lucid, to a point. I intend to treasure every moment we all have left with her because, as many of you can attest, moms are everything. And, Moms and Home kind of go, hand-in-hand, don’t they? Just goes to show that when I speak of “going home”, I am not always just talking about Cape Breton.