For many years I was the primary caregiver in our family for our son who has severe disabilities. Nicholas needed a lot of therapy and was often ill enough to be in the hospital. Those were fraught and exhausting times. Now our son lives in a wonderful care home near our house and his health has been stable (touch wood!) for the last while. What I learned from caring for Nick was an ethic of care that is best expressed in the words love, resilience, determination and forbearance. These lessons my husband and I learned on the fly from our son. He was our teacher. In my book, my search for the meaning of our family experience led me to wonder about what kinds of supports in the community and the country could have helped us to have a life that each of us valued.
Over recent months, my time has been taken up helping my sister to care for our mother who is 95 and growing in frailty and the need for support. Last week, we moved Mom from her apartment in an autonomous seniors' residence where she'd lived for over fifteen years to an assisted living home nearby. Our family is blessed to have found a renovated Victorian home in a wooded park beside a lake. As my sister said, the home feels like a comfortable, old shoe. With less than 20 residents and care staff that treat their elders like family, my Mom is slowly settling in to her new home. As time passes, I'll be writing more on what I'm learning from Mom's new support staff about eldercare with dignity. Already, I've learned important and wonderful lessons.
Today, I'm in a reflective mood. I find myself thinking a lot about my own old age and my own death. I'm analysing the choices I would make in living arrangements when it comes time to make them. "I'll bloom where I am planted", are the words that come to mind. To care and be cared for are not crosses to bear. They are just different ways of living and they are natural.
I remember reading somewhere about a woman who, on entering the room of her long term care home for the first time, declared "this is just lovely." It wasn't a statement of fact, it wasn't even a statement of feeling. It was the declaration of a decision - a decision to be happy, or at least to try. I remember thinking that this was a noble act.
Now, at 61, I am already seven years older than my father was when he died. I'm healthy and active, but I am aware of my snow-white hair. I'm see the creases in my face and in my arms. I admire my Mom's determination to live life by her own terms - we are supporting her the best we can to do what she values most: to choose.
I hope that Mom will choose to be happy in her new home. In the meantime, I've made a decision which I've already shared with my children: when I am old and need care, "I'll bloom where I am planted. I will make a decision to be happy and wherever I land, I'll say, 'this is just lovely'."