Where the Heart Is

Following their wedding, my parents lived in a tiny apartment above her parents’ garage. By the time I came along, they had moved into a small, brick ranch-style house about two blocks away in a neighborhood that was the result of subdividing the family farm. We lived there until I was six before we moved to a two-story Cape Cod in Akron, Ohio, where we stayed for five years.

In July of 1964 we moved to Michigan and a house that my father had bought without consulting his good wife. There the family resided for nearly sixty years, dropping off one by one as my sister and I moved out and our brothers passed away. My dad died in 2015, leaving only my mom. Since then, she has had only occasional visitors, save one incredible neighbor who took on more and more responsibilities as my mom grew older and less able to care for the house and in time herself.

Much to her great protest, we helped her move into Provision Senior Living last month, a brand-spanking new assisted living community that we decided would be much safer for her than living by her lonesome. She hated the idea at first, clung tenaciously to the belief that with Jan’s daily assistance and the help of a few other friends, she could live in her home until she departed to join her husband and sons. And that would happen, of course, after she reached the wondrous age of one hundred.

She almost made it to that marker on her own terms, but with her ninety-ninth birthday just three months away, she now finds herself in yet one more home, one that she shares with a number of other seniors who have changed lanes late in the race. It took her a week or so to get used to the idea that she will have all sorts of help from a staff of cheerful aides. They have already taken a shine to her, though they have no way of knowing just how vibrant she was up to just a few years ago, how active she was in athletics and church functions, how wickedly witty she was in any situation. They may be enjoying a glimpse of that, but it’s a shame that they couldn’t have met her when she running life’s race so vigorously.

Last week, Teresa and I made our way back to East Lansing to visit and to begin all the tasks involved in taking care of her business now that she is being cared for elsewhere. Because the old split-level will soon be listed on the real estate market, we spent hours going through documents and memorabilia, securing what we’ll someday take home with us to Wyoming and deciding on what we will part with before the sale. It was, of course, an emotional chore in many ways, and we found ourselves talking a lot about my mom’s days in the house in the past tense, even though each day also brought drop-ins to her new apartment to be with her, sharing old times and holding her hand while we talked about our own kids and that very special grandson. 

On our last morning together, I sat beside her on her old couch and took her hand in mine. I can’t recall doing that since I was a young child, but it felt as natural as could be. No longer any roles that defined our relationship. Just love. Before I let go of our clasp, she said softly, “I am very happy here.”

That came as a warm surprise, and I asked her why she felt that way.

“The people here are very nice to me.”

Well, of course, they are, but as Teresa and I walked down the long hall toward the lobby, I had a thought that my mother’s caregivers are more than people who serve her needs. They are conduits for all of those souls who she has helped over the years, representatives of everyone who wants to pay her back for a lifetime of kindness. And those lovely staff members do that in every room throughout the building. I couldn’t be more grateful.

See you in a few weeks, Mom. 

Categories Personal

2 thoughts on “Where the Heart Is

  1. I can so relate to this, as I embarked on this same journey with my mom and dad! Your mother, my “almost” birthday buddy is so special to me❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’re both fortunate to have our mothers with us still. I’m grateful to have you, too! ❤️

      Like

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