Updated: Mar 25, 2021
This is for you, Mum, even though you probably still blame me for moving you into that assisted-living facility. Look, you were an 83-year-old widow (still lovely) and you’d had several strokes. You couldn’t be left alone — and Linda (my sis) and I were still working.
Okay, I was PRETENDING to work.
Still, we tried our best to keep you in at least one of our homes. I wanted you because the townhouse needed dusting, the bathroom was filthy, and I was sick of frozen dinners. Cutting the lawn and shovelling snow would have been nice bonuses.
But would you be safe alone?
I still remember a meeting we had in a conference room at the hospital after your last stroke. Earlier that morning, they turned you loose in one of the small hospital kitchens to see how you’d do. I’m not surprised it went poorly. I mean, who in God’s name asks “where do you keep the oysters?” at seven in the morning?
But back to our medical summit.
“Look at her now,” I said, matter-of-factly, looking over at Mum, while a small group of doctors sat nearby, shuffling pencils and notebooks. “She’s fine. Don’t you think she can live on her own?”
Then I was cut short.
“We can’t judge your mother when she’s at her best,” one doctor said. “We have to judge her when she’s at her worst.”
Piff! I said, using a word I never use. How dare that so-called doctor steal all my pro-Mom ammunition: that she still watched Jeopardy; that she solved half the mysteries on Murder She Wrote; that she thought Lawrence Welk was hot but his music too avant-garde.
Um, funny, she always watched The Price is Right religiously, and yet she wasn’t a religious person. But I digress.
So now the hospital meeting’s over and out comes the Kleenex. She’s crying. “Those doctors don’t know a thing,” Mum says, on the drive back to her apartment. “None of them do.”
Linda and I are quiet, but we know what’s coming. “How could you let them talk to me like that?” she says. “If your father only knew ...”
I’m thinking this might not be a good time to bring up our next step — looking for a seniors residence. But I figure, “it’s too late to change her will. Go for it.”
So we have the talk.
Well, to make a short story longer, we end up finding what the TV commercial calls “a perfect place for Mom,” fairly close to where we live.
It looks more like a two-storey motel. Nice grey brick — the kind you often see in Westmount, even though we’re in Montreal’s West Island.
Most of the units are huge big rooms, with no balcony, which is a good thing considering Mom’s state of mind. There’s a lovely garden where residents can plant flowers and vegetables. The dining room is so nice you could rent it out to the Royal Family. It has an indoor pool that’s never seen a ripple. Still, just to be safe and discourage rambunctious residents from diving, management put up a warning sign: DEEP END, 3 FEET.
There’s a huge common area with gaggles of women, all clutching black leather purses.
There’s a small theatre with four seats and three stretchers. There’s a tiny library, but I’m sure Mum’s read all 12 books. Then there’s a tiny chapel, big enough for 12 converts or one Orson Welles.
“What’s that?” she asks as we peek into the wee room during one of our getting-familiar visits.
“It’s the chapel,” I say, looking over a room so narrow they had to saw off one arm of the crucifix.
“No, seriously, what is it?
“THE CHAPEL! you can’t hang your coat in there!”
And, yet, despite this wonderful place, Mom still needed convincing.
“Don’t worry” I told her, as we left her future residence. “You won’t have to go anywhere you don’t want. You’ll have your own room. The place will be big enough for all your furniture. Linda and I will visit you every second day. We’ll take you for walks and we’ll go shopping. You’ll meet new friends. Oh, and remember how you used to love playing bingo during summers in Ste. Eustache? Well, they’ve got bingo there every Monday.”
I swear, when I saw Mom’s face light up, I actually felt like yelling: BINGO!
I was pretty pleased with my long-winded sales talk, so I kept it going.
“It’ll be fun,” I said, case closed and feeling like a sharpie salesman handing over keys to a clunker. “You’ll even get tired of seeing us.”
I wanted to add, “you’ll probably even wish we weren’t born,” but no sense pressing my luck.