Today is about remembering the second to the last mile – the two years my mom spent in the Boston area before her stroke. I was so blessed to have her close to me. Certainly, not having to drive to NYC every couple of weeks was a welcome change. What I didn’t know was how incredibly healing and rich our time together would be.
I saw my mom almost every day during those two years, and enjoyed her more than I ever had before. We became friends, we repaired the hurt each of us had caused the other, and we read each other’s minds. Part of what eased our path was the wonderful assisted living facility where my mom settled. Finding a place for my mom to live wasn’t easy. Talking her into moving was even harder.
My mom was the quintessential New Yorker: “I was born here, I’ve lived here my whole life here, and I’m going to die here,” she insisted. And she almost did. With each fall, with each hospitalization, I became more determined to have her close to me. I wanted to care for her without having to drive 200 miles each way. Finally, at the end of 2009, my mom agreed to come up to Boston for the winter. Respite care, I called it.
I searched non-stop for the right place, trying to see each facility through my mom’s eyes. No place had the right feel…the “Eleanor” feel. The feel of joy, and intellect, and a certain je ne sais quoi. I was looking for a place that would “get” the twinkle in her bright, strikingly beautiful blue eyes. That would see that glint that all of us had known and fallen in love with. That would feel her charm and be charmed. That would feel her panache and be “panached.” Finally, I walked into The Falls at Cordingly Dam. I felt my mom’s approval from 200 miles away. I could see her there, in my mind’s eye, and she fit perfectly. The residents were like her. They were alive, they had so much joy, they were cultured and smart, and active. This was the place, I was sure.
We came up on February 1, 2010. My mom was so brave, even through her palpable fear. The first night was really hard. But she took it in her stride. Two weeks after my mom arrived, she announced that she was ready to stay. I said a silent prayer of thanks. And smiled at her. She smiled back.
As my mom settled in, she made her mark at The Falls. She could never be reached by phone – she was too busy playing word games, doing crossword puzzles, trivia, and engaging in her “intellectual pursuit,” as she called it…bingo. She regaled the other residents with her stories and jokes. Her puns became legendary. She was dubbed The Falls’ resident enigmatologist for her prowess at crosswords.
Most remarkably, my mom found kindred souls. She and her friends became a NY posse – an entire group of ex-pat NY Jews. She started a new informal activity – post-movie schmoozing each night. After the evening’s movie or other event, my mom would lead her posse to the living room, where they would hang out until, one by one, they drifted off to their apartments to get some rest until the next day.
Becoming the mother to one’s mother is challenging. My mom and I settled into this relationship, with all its complexities, pretty seamlessly. Oddly, she was also always still my mom, up until a couple of days before she died. At the end of 2010, my mom arranged a surprise birthday party for me at The Falls. She charmed the chef into making a huge birthday cake, got the activities director to aid and abet her scheme, and a huge group of residents yelled “SURPRISE!!” when I walked into the room. I still have the red paper birthday hat that she gave me – it is one of my treasured possessions.
When I was under the weather, or sad, my mom would always say “I wish I could make you some chicken soup,” as she hugged me. My heart filled with her love for me, and mine for her, and I invariably felt comforted. With this foundational relationship continuing, it was not hard for me to care for her, to step in and be her mother even as she was mine. There was a symbiosis to it – each of us giving to the other, receiving as we gave, and spinning our relationship into an upward spiral of pure love.
My mom was able to live her last two years with true quality of life – a gift for her and all of us who loved her.
Yet more to come tomorrow. Come back and visit if you can.