“It’s not that I mind getting old,” my mother confided, “so much as my mind’s getting old.”
I am paddling in uncharted waters. My eighty year old mother sits idly in the boat gripping her small suitcase containing her precious jewelry. “Where are we going, Debbie?” she asks. “I’m not sure yet, Mom,” I answer as honestly as I can. ” I’m trying to find a safe, comfortable place where you will be happy and content.” Five minutes later she’s forgotten and we repeat the conversation again..and then again..and then again, until she tires and falls asleep.
Living abroad has challenged us, especially since Ron and I both have elderly mothers. We make frequent trips to the states and count our blessings each time we return simply because we can share our love, our stories, and our histories. But, there will soon come a time when we will no longer be able to share those bonding memories. Those tender moments are scarcer, which saddens me.
There is no one-size-fits all manual for new parents, because every child is different, and the same applies to caring for an aging parent. In one year’s time, my mother has moved from a three-story house, to a condo in Florida, to an apartment in a retirement center. No wonder she asks me constantly, “Where are we going, Debbie?”
This year I am resolved to help her get comfortably settled and surrounded by family..those who know the stories and can jog her memory with humorous tales of long ago. “Remember when Dad got a new shop vac and you were styling your hair in the beauty shop, Mom?” “Yes, I remember that,” she says. “Well, do you remember that you were wearing a silk scarf around your head when Dad showed you the power of the shop vac?” She starts to laugh recalling the incident, “Yes! He sucked the silk scarf right off my head and into the shop vac.” Those endearing moments, tales of years’ past..those are the moments I want Mom to experience again. They can only happen when surrounded by family.
Most Nicaraguan family units are large, with eight or more people living together under one hot tin roof. The Nicaraguan household is typically augmented by the presence of grandparents, aunts, uncles, an orphaned relative, a daughter with children of her own, and always accompanied by dogs, chickens, and a few pigs. Extended family members take care of their own. They even lack a word in their vocabulary for retirement home. The concept of a place where the elderly are removed from the family unit is alien and strange to most Nicaraguans.
Although Nicaragua is out of the question for Mom ( Her needs are greater than our island can support), we do have plans in the making where she will be surrounded by loving family. She’ll soon be living with my brother and his wife and their chocolate lab, Lena.
So, as I paddle my boat in uncharted waters, the next time Mom asks, “Where are we going, Debbie?” I’ll soon be able to answer, “Home, Mom. We’re going home.” I am resolved!