by Lila Lazarus
I’m sitting in my mother’s basement and I’m crying. I’m surrounded on all sides by boxes filled to the brim with photographs and birthday cards, old cameras and record albums, plaques and certificates — remnants of a life well-lived. I’m holding a wedding invitation I just found from 1974. I don’t recognize the names, but there’s also the card with directions just in case my Mom still needs them. I’m completely overwhelmed.
Last month, I finally convinced my mother to move into a senior facility. Living alone in a big house was just too much for her to maintain and, frankly, not safe for her anymore. For years I had begged her to begin the difficult process of donating, selling and disposing of her life’s treasures. But she never did. She just didn’t want to face the idea that she wouldn’t be able to live independently and couldn’t hold on to her things forever. I know this is hard for her. I know she feels like her life is spinning and there’s so much loss, including loss of control.
I never thought of my Mom as a hoarder. Her home was orderly. But now, faced with the task of unloading eight decades worth of possessions, it’s clear to me she was what I now affectionately call a “non-disposer.” A child of the depression, she held on to everything anyone ever gave her. Everything. From theatre playbills, to birthday cards, to the “Hello my name is” name-tags she was given at charity functions. She still has all the baby cards sent to her when my brother was born. He’s now 63. And come to think of it, where the hell is he? I’m alone in this basement and I’m crying. I have three siblings but they all live out of state. So the selling, sorting, organizing, tossing, cleaning and caring for my Mom – it’s all been left to me. And between you and me, I’m not taking it well. I’m trying not to be a packing robot. What seems old and outdated to me were part of my mom’s precious memories, but I want the job done.
I never forced my Mom into having the conversations she didn’t want to have. For example: Who’s going to deal with all the stuff you’ve collected? Tell me about your bank accounts, retirement funds, pension, credit cards, etc. Where’s the key to the safe deposit box? (She lost it a long time ago.) They were tough subjects so we never faced them.
Yes, in the back of my mind I knew there would come a time I’d be caring for my Mom. But no one tipped me off about how suddenly things change and how much work would be involved and how emotional I would become. No one ever warned me how difficult this would be. I know this process is different for everyone — but if you haven’t been through this yet, be warned: It’s not easy. Here are the few things I’m learning after hours and days in my Mom’s basement:
This process is taxing on my body, mind and spirit. I’m frustrated. I’m frazzled. I’m fatigued. I’m trying to figure out which bills have been paid and which are overdue and from what accounts, but my eyelids are heavy. I’m trying to find the silver lining or something to laugh about, but even humor is no substitute for a good night’s sleep. If you’re taking on the role of custodian, bill payer, medical advocate, errand runner, house cleaner and seller, give yourself airplane advice: Put your oxygen mask on first, or you’re of no use to anyone. Too often the caregiver puts all their energy into the care receiver and leaves themselves totally depleted. I did that for the first few weeks and thought I was losing my mind. Sleep deprivation takes you straight to burnout. Take care of you, so you can take care of Mom and her affairs.
Once I got Mom into the right facility, it was clear I was spending way too much time with old photos, dust and garbage bags. Every time I felt like my heart was breaking, I would force myself to head outside and go for a walk. Nature has a way of calming the soul.
Things go downhill fast. Suddenly she’s not finishing sentences or turning off the stove. She struggles with her cell phone and forgets directions to places she’s been to countless times. She insists on holding on to so many of her books or files because she will “need them.” She calls at all hours of the day. She can’t find her license. (That one’s probably a blessing as she shouldn’t be driving anymore — and telling her that hasn’t been easy.) There’s depression and so much frustration on all sides. Just be warned.
Make a Plan
The toughest part is none of this was planned or even talked about. So take my advice: Have those difficult conversations before it’s too late. Where would you like to live? What can we get rid of now? Make a list of all bank accounts and automatic bills and credit cards and insurance information. Do some pre-planning with an attorney and with the rest of the family. Even if they’re out of town, they can make calls, cancel the newspaper that’s still being dropped in the driveway or help with some of the bills.
You Gotta Have Friends
Why was I even trying to do this all alone? Thank goodness for friends who showed up just at the right time. Don’t be afraid to use the three most powerful words in the English language: “I need help.” Staying isolated and playing the victim didn’t help me one iota. You’ll learn who your real friends are. Breeda Miller, “The Caregiver Champion,” who speaks on the overwhelming feelings I’m experiencing, gave me the best advice of all: “Breathe,” she said. “You don’t have to figure everything out at the same time. Take a moment to collect your thoughts, and then think about what resources are available to help you. It’s a new normal and you are traveling an unfamiliar and scary path – there is help available, but you need to reach out. One of the hardest feelings to overcome is the feeling of isolation. Be mindful of this, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
It was just what I needed to hear to get me out of the basement. Mom seems to be doing well in her new surroundings, and I’m still working on getting rid of some last-minute items. There’s a mountain of photographs that need to be digitized and slides that need to be transferred. If I had to do it over again, I would have urged my siblings to get on a plane and help me. They didn’t, so I’m throwing their report cards in the trash.
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10 thoughts on “Aging Parents: What to Expect When You Move Your Mom”
We found a loose leaf binder at a bookstore titled Beneficiary Book that has pages to fill out for all important information about banking, medical info, insurance, wills, final arrangements. We have told our children where it is located if something happens to us. I think they will be very grateful to have it.
Lila, This is well stated. It is so important to have the conversations when they are possible. Also, it is important for the aging parent to try to start getting rid of things that are clearly useless. My wife and I are in the same boat, and we are trying to slim down our belongings. It is no picnic. We are also looking into assisted living situations for the time that it might be needed. We have a living will, but it needs to be updated. I think a file, which is known to the executors, that contains important information like how bills are paid, how do they get to the bank accounts, retirement funds, pension, credit cards, etc. Where’s the key to the safe deposit box? These points need to be constantly reminded and observed to the extent possible. Delaying any of this leads to situations like those you are facing. Thank you very much for bringing these points up and also sharing your tears and emotions. Maybe your article can help others get started
It’s a great place to live. My dad has adapted and enjoys seeing old friends and making new ones!
He was with your mom the other night, no doubt reminiscing about years past.
Lila, be greatful and thankful you are their with your mom, I had the same issues with my mother, I did have a bit more help then you but remember it is the memories you will have and the other siblings will wish they had that time with mom in here move from here existing home to here new surroundings. Life will Give Back To You! For What You Are Doing For MOM.
I received many blessing by being their during the changes of aging parents and it was a benifit as well in life for me. I am not sorry I did all I could in my mom aging process, she has been gone 10 years and I have many blessing and memories even as hard as it was!
Time to call your siblings.. yes I have lived this. My sister lived in our home town.. she did more than all of us, however, there was a conference call to all five of us. There was a long weekend picked, and plane tickets bought. She clearly stated she couldn’t do it all. There was a dumpster, a women’s shelter for donation, truck rented. Sibling divided tasks and things, grandchildren got second choice, cousins next. No procrastination .. if you wanted it, you moved it that weekend or made arrangements. No complaining about outcome if you didn’t help.
Thoughtful, respectful and sensible.
When I was young, my parents and I knew Mrs. Orbach and your father. My father’s gone but I still have my mother. It’s heartbreaking to see our champions getting old and frail. Give her my & my mother’s regards.
Thank you for the wake up, I am
Going to take your advice and take. Are of thing so my busy children do not have to do it.
I’ am picking up the phone right now and calling my brother and sister…..I need the help and support! Thank you
Yes Lila, I have lived this. I was a caregiver for my Mom at age of 95 in her home. My Mom was in her right mind at age of 95 years old. She just needed assistance at this age of 95 she was slowing down. My Mom was diagnosed with 4 stage kidneys disease do her age. My Mom died peacefully at Botsford Hospital on January 17 2016 last year at age 95 years old.e
Being a caregiver for my Mother was stressful but, God got me through. I feel I have completed my Mom’s wishes what God wanted me to do. I know for sure my Mom is resting in heaven now smiling down on me. I completed my task that God had me to do. I feel a great peace now and I have no regrets.