Last month my 88-year-old mother moved into an assisted living facility located 4.5 miles from my house. This is four miles further than we’ve lived from each other for the past nine years. While it may sound like a negligible change, it feels much more significant, for this half-mile has been traversed far more often than I ever expected—traveled by me literally, back and forth, but also by my mind and heart day and night over the past three years.
In the fall of 2020, I was a few months into the “empty nest” stage of life, with our older son beginning his senior year in college and our younger son joining him there as a freshman. It was also my first academic year not in the classroom since 2014. My imagination was beginning to stir in regard to the new, blank chapter before me. What would it hold? I wondered.
Then Mom became sick. A hospital stay revealed that she had mismanaged her meds, and the doctors instructed me to become involved in her care. This was an unwelcome prescription to my fiercely independent mom, and I tremulously moved into this caregiving role over the next nine months.
That September Dad became sick.
He didn’t become sick, per se. He simply began to decline, and soon I realized that he would not be recovering. He was dying. I moved into Mom and Dad’s townhouse, and for fifteen days, I bore witness and did what I could to help. Mom was losing her partner of 61 years, so she largely remained by his side; meanwhile, I dealt with hospice nurses, contacted the funeral home, called family and friends, and wrote his obituary.
I remained with Mom in the days following his death, along with my husband, yet after his funeral, she declared that it was time for me to go home. I felt torn in leaving her; however, I had known my mom would tell me what she wanted, and I would honor her wishes. I packed up and returned to my house a half-mile away.
However, that half-mile distance couldn’t disguise that something had inalterably changed. Mom no longer drove. She no longer cooked. And, it became quickly clear, her memory was declining. While she could take care of herself in many ways, she was dependent on me in many, many other ways—ways that were vital for her well-being and, quite frankly, survival.
Immediately my life became reoriented around her. Food, reminders about medication, social interaction, and outings formed the rhythm of each day, with doctors appointments and physical therapy sprinkled in each week. In all of this, I was dealing with a stalwart woman with an avoidant attachment style, so to receive my help and care was often uncomfortable for her, frequently unwelcome, and an ongoing attempt on my part to forge a new relationship with her. Despite how many times I was shown the door, I knew I had to keep showing up.
Over the past few months, it became increasingly clear that the current situation had to change—for her good and for mine. She was having frequent mishaps with her medication and the lack of regular engagement with people was taking a toll, whether she would acknowledge it or not. And, I confess, it had begun to wear on me too. Day after day, I held anxiety about how I would find her when I walked in the back door of her townhouse. And day after day, I experienced what it was to long for a close, caring relationship with a mother who frequently refused or resented my care.
There were moments of redemption, to be sure, but there was also disappointment, heartache, and grief.
Finally, I came to the realization that we both needed care—more care and better care than what we could offer one another. Her doctor and my therapist agreed. Thus, we came to a crossroads—Mom moved 4.5 miles away to an assisted living facility that could better meet her needs, and I released her to others who would become her caregivers, allowing me to resume life as her daughter. I believe this change will be best for both of us.
Over the past three years, there have been times when I have known the next step, the correct decision, and the right path with certainty. There has been such grace and peace in those moments, which remain even now as I recall them. There have also been times when I have felt lost, ill-equipped, and frightened of the road before us. In those instances I have tried to do the best I could. I pray that, eventually, I can remember those moments, too, with grace and peace. And in the end, I hope I can rest assured, knowing “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”*
*Julian of Norwich
Susan Tucker is a lifelong lover of story, and with curiosity and openness, she often explores in her writing the tension that life holds. A former English teacher, Susan loves meaningful use of language, especially when used to stir the soul and whet one’s appetite for more truth, goodness, and beauty. Compelled by a burgeoning interest in trauma recovery, she pursued training at The Allender Center, completing the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care, Level I and Level 2. Susan and Tim, her husband of 29 years, are the parents of two sons, now young adults, and are adjusting to a nest that, while different, is far from empty.nbsp