Greetings from the 95+ plus degree Detroit area heat. It’s day 25 of 32 in my parallel universe.
I arrived on the eve of Memorial Day in the Detroit area 26 years ago to the day after I packed my bags to pursue a new life out west.
My original plan to enjoy June 2022 and celebrate my birthday — fully vaxed and double boosted — went right out the window when my mother phoned in agony about her right hip. She’d reached the point of no return with bone-on-bone pain and needed my on-site assistance with imminent surgery. Three years earlier, my sister spent a month nursing her through her left hip replacement. It was now my turn.
Suddenly I was back in the house I grew up in, driving the roads I once navigated with ease — without smart phone maps. Behind the wheel of my mother’s 24 year old car, everything was the same but very different all at once.
While determined to live independently after my father’s passing last year, my mother’s debilitating pain and lack of mobility (coupled with two years of COVID isolation) meant the car and house had fallen into sustained neglect and disrepair. Everything, including my mother’s hip, opted to fail simultaneously.
That left me ping-ponging between the hospital, car repair shop and home each day with a different set of projects, problems and puzzles to solve. Serenity now!
Parallel Universe Projects
The scariest moment? That was the complete car brake failure as I nosed the car into the hospital parking lot curb on surgery day. I’d just finished asking the patient-to-be how long her brakes had been so sponge-y. “A few weeks,” she casually responded.
We’d apparently narrowly avoided a severe, or worse, deadly intersection accident. I soon joined the tow truck driver in his truck’s front seat. While my mother was on the operating table having her hip joint removed and replaced, the auto technician informed me the car’s serpentine belt and A/C compressor were on the verge of kaput. It would take a week to get all the necessary parts and repairs in place.
Hello, Enterprise Car Rental…?
Then there was the kitchen. It was a full-blown disaster zone — a different sort of parallel universe. The refrigerator and microwave oven were locked in a fierce battle to see which could grow more science experiments. Meanwhile, the stove top presented 90 minutes worth of scrubbing in rubber gloves to remove the debris and grease caked on it. Upstairs in my parent’s master bath, the 50 year-old toilet mechanism lacked the energy to properly flush. Mildew and mold blossomed in the shower. And the once off-white carpets on the stairs and covering the living and dining room floors? Years of dirt and spills had turned them a virtual Rorschach test. The outdoor deck — weather-beaten wooden planks off the family room — carried heaps of dirt and dregs.
Splitting wood and sharp splinters presented a mine field of potential injuries. Just as the temperature’s outside reached for 95 degrees and a heat index of 104, the house A/C unit, installed in 1995 and never serviced, stopped pumping cool air. Of course! Why operate when everything else wasn’t?
Since I became an adult and moved West my approach to life (and how I organize and prioritize my daily living) shifted 180 out from my parent’s approach. Apart from genetics and a love of film and books, we now share very little in common — particularly when it comes to personal fitness and home and car maintenance.
Back in the hospital, the nursing team informed me my mother’s weakened condition and intermittent atrial fibrillation qualified her for transfer to the hospital’s rehab wing. There they could provide needed oversight as well as physical and occupational therapy to strengthen her languishing muscles. The team wanted to know my plan B should she not regain adequate mobility. Five days in they asked me to look into assisted living accommodations as they feared she would lack the necessary strength to live alone once my one-month stay was up.
Suffice to say, there are few things more nerve-wracking and unpleasant than researching and visiting facilities housing elderly in the waning days of a pandemic. Understaffed and overwhelmed, all five facilities I visited wreaked of despair and exhaustion.
The Never-Ending To-Do List
A week’s hospital stay turned into two. The mere mention of assisted living lit a fire in my mother’s belly. She redoubled her efforts in PT and OT determined to show the hospital social worker and me she possessed the capability for independent living. The added rehab time allowed time to for me to re-arrange and move furniture to make room for the re-assembly of dad’s hospital bed (since stored in the basement) and portable commode. Back to the phone to line up several weeks of in-home PT therapy visits post-hospital release.
Next up: scrubbing bathrooms and floors; emptying drawers and closets of long-abandoned objects and compiling dad’s clothing for donation; arranging a plumber to remove and install a new toilet; carpet cleaners to deep clean; deck power washing, sealing and repair; a handy man to mount grab bars in the garage entry and shower as well as an A/C repair. Phew…all completed in time for the patient’s return and at-home PT sessions.
Parallel Universe Warnings
No rest for the weary. Not even at night. I lay awake in bed the past month wondering not just about my mother, but about me and others in my shoes. Without children to call upon, women (and men) in my situation face still more aging challenges. This entire odyssey sharpened my focus on the essentials. Now more than ever my health and mobility remain top priorities. That and carefully looking after my home, car and finances. My husband and I have always made a point to ‘de-content’ and donate items we’re no longer using. I look forward to returning to a well-maintained home and a (mostly) orderly, well-oiled life.
Equally, I’m glad for organizations such as the New Legacy Institute. I’ll participate in a new contributor call led by Christine Erickson June 28. Beyond workplace policy issues, you can well imagine the policy issue I now see as a critical: aging without children. Two days later, June 30, I’m booked on a flight west.
Meanwhile, I’m now in week three and half of a strange and surreal gauntlet of care-giving, home and car repair, and cleaning and fix-it projects. Somewhere in there I had a 59th birthday. Here’s hoping my 60th birthday in 2023 proves less stress-filled and more enjoyable.
Now, what’s on your minds and calendars?
16 thoughts on “Parallel Universe Reveals Hard Truths”
Oh my goodness. That is an extremely difficult few weeks. We moved my mom into a seniors’ residence this past week. Everything went smoothly so far and still, it’s been very stressful. Even just wondering how she will adjust and if she will accept the change is nerve wracking to me. But so far, so good. Trying to figure out that transition in the midst of a health crisis sounds overwhelming. We have yet to make a plan for the house….but there isn’t huge urgency there at least.
I hope you find some time to rest and recover. Life can be relentless.
Feel for you, too, Síochána! Yes, relentless indeed! Change is never easy and aging in one place makes it that much more difficult to tolerate. I am going to work on my adaptability skills and continue to introduce more varied new experiences into my life to ensure I don’t get too rigid in my own world. Wishing you and yours all the best in your latest transitions.
Yes I 100% agree. A little bit of change, and a little bit of practice letting go on a regular basis is needed. Witnessing my mom’s experience has also got me thinking about what sort of person I want to be when I’m older and can’t take for granted the things I do now. We can pretend that the present state of things will continue forever but the truth is it won’t, it never does.
Oh my, Pamela, that’s a LOT. :( I suppose the one good thing about having your mother out of the house right now is you can do all these things without her around to object or offer opinions…! My parents have always done pretty well at maintaining their home, but they are now in their early 80s and not as physically and financially able to keep up with things as they were… it’s a split-level house from the 1980s (lots of stairs) with a big back yard — but convincing them to downsize to something smaller (and on one level!) is easier said than done…! Downsizing on short notice, as we did a few years ago, was NOT fun, but I am very glad we did it at this point in our lives, when we still had some control and some choices in the matter. I’ll look forward to hearing your thoughts when you speak with Christine next week!
I hope you have some time for fun & relaxation when you return home — you deserve it!
I recall your downsizing well, Loribeth, and remember thinking you were ahead of the curve then. Choice and control are key to making big transitions more palatable. If there’s one thing I’ve learned with 80 year olds it’s that it’s best to introduce new ideas and decision points early and often and in a way that allows the 80-something to arrive at the right answer. (Gosh, that sorta sounds like a fortune cookie).
I feel you on this one! We just convinced my frail in-laws to move 4 hours to a new house 8 minutes from our house. This was after multiple crises that were impossible to handle from so far away. Getting rid of 50 years worth of stuff is daunting. It has lit a fire un der me too to continue the clutter cleanout in my house.
Ugh! Crises from a distance are in a word: awful. Glad you were able to get your in-laws to a saner distance for all involved. Here’s to de-cluttering and more breathing room xx
Ohmygosh. You have been BUSY. I look forward to a period of rest for you. Working in healthcare, I know how difficult finding placement for older adults can be during the pandemic. Recovering from hip surgery alone is no joke. I’m glad you are able to take care of so much to make your mom’s home safer for her.
While you and I will be aging without children, we can also plan accordingly. For one, I bought an almost level home. There are a couple of steps throughout, but I was already imagining future ramps and grab bars as I toured the home before purchase.
Your month sounds difficult and demanding and I am thinking of you. If I can send you mental and physical energy over the internet, consider it done!!! <3
Feeling your mental and physical energy, Phoenix. Many, many thanks for the good wishes and thoughts. You know much better than most how daunting the healthcare world can be. Well done on getting into a home that can accommodate you in the years to come.
Yeeesh that’s a lot! The combination of chronic illness and grief can contribute to states of physical disarray, that’s for sure. Whenever I assist people with children along the cleaning and de-cluttering lines it’s not lost on me that I (and so many others) won’t have that.
I felt a huge push a few years back to tackle my scoliosis when it started to cause problems and injury. I felt at times the medical professionals I was dealing with (who were generally great) seemed to take a second look at how hard and consistently I was working. I got the feeling I wasn’t quite the usual patient norm. I knew though that 1) Being able to work with and in my body is a major healthy coping mechanism for me and that 2) 20 -30 + years from now I’ll likely need my body differently than someone with children might.
So brava to you for plowing through and being so functional! Wishing you a more relaxing July.
Understanding our bodies and the many ways they incorporate and hold stress, grief and chronic illness is so critical, Sarah! I’ve found myself throughout this past month taking deep breaths and consciously uncoiling my muscles and seeking nature to settle my unsettled nerves. In fact, I’m off now to plant some flowers and listen to birdsong in the back yard to steel myself for the intense heat and humidity coming later today. Thanks for the sweet birthday toast photo you texted … it reminded me of better days to come xx
I am sending many good wishes of fast recovery to your mom!
Exactly… I have also put my health and mobility as my top priorities.
kind regards from Europe,
Many thanks, Klara, for the good wishes. We have many hikes and travel to co-plan in the coming months and years! xx
Wow, there’s nothing like caring for the elderly to bring thoughts of our own declining years into sharp perspective, is there? It’s both impossibly hard – we’re caring for the ones we love, and it is painful to watch them decline, but also frustrating that they haven’t foreseen the issues they now face – and yet enormously helpful for us, because we don’t have those people to give the same help we are giving/have given, and it signals what we need to think about, and that we have to do it so much earlier than our parents/inlaws did.
(I also talk up a storm on this, but need to stop talking and DO so much more to sort through the almost 30 years of stuff we have in this house. Down-sizing is now getting to be high on the agenda!)
Hope your mother is now healing well. And that you can get her to think about options before she (and you) have no choice.
So true, Mali. The sharp perspective is also acting as an accelerant and giving me an added sense of urgency to make the most of what a financial planning and retirement consultant characterized as the last half of our lives being our “go-go years, slo-go years and no-go years.” Sending love your way as well! xx