After teaching school for more than thirty years, the occasion of my mother’s retirement was one of true celebration. She had conquered hardships, navigated a difficult divorce, and dealt with a troubled kid (yours truly) who did not take those changes very well, but as you see, survived to tell the story.
When I became a so-called adult, I lived largely in Illinois and Wisconsin, settling finally in Minnesota, but my mother felt indebted to her birthplace, which is the state of Mississippi.
Mother was leading her own small church as an ordained minister, and in my mind, all was right in her world.
As life would have it, we did not get to visit much, but we chatted by phone, despite the cost of long distance in those days, and I heard for the first five years or so was about how sweet it was to be free of the heavy planning, the hard schedules, and even the difficult relationships that she had with parents and other staff members.
I cannot put my finger on the exact season that the dialogue of our phone calls changed, but they began to turn into a “what should I do next?” query from Mother, every single time. She had a list of unanswered questions, that she expected me to answer and I found myself avoiding some of her calls due to my lack of answers. I felt stupid and selfish, which was about right. I wanted my mother to handle her own problems. I surely had enough of my own. I wanted her to be the strong woman I had always known instead of the whiny ( in my opinion) out-of-focus person she had become.
Questions went like this: “What do they have in the way of senior housing in Minnesota?” “Do you think I should sell my home and move to an apartment?” “Should I ask your brother to move out of the apartment and find his own place?” The questions were endless, and as far as the part about moving my brother out of the apartment space of her home, I was thinking, “he lives in your place for free, does not work to help you out, and yeah, kick him out of there” but I remained silent. That was an issue between the two of them, and I was not about to insert myself into their stuff.
Besides, I now had “stuff” of my own. I had raised five children, and was then, raising some of their children. I was holding down a full-time job, going to school myself and re-learning all the Sesame Street songs.
Somewhere along the way, I half listened to my mother’s questions, and I know that some part of me ignored them altogether. When she died of cancer at about the age I am now, I began dissecting some of those questions, but it was too painful to think that mother was simply lonely and frightened that in her advancing age, she would have to die alone, without the comfort of either of her two children.
When it hit me that all my children and grandchildren were adults, it was an –a-ha moment of monumental proportions. I had two empty nest experiences and what would I do now.
After weeping for a season, wondering if anyone would come to visit me on Sundays, or if they would just want to hang out with me on days besides the designated “Mommy” and seeing how three of my longtime friends had passed away ( two discovered in their homes, despite having children who should have checked on them) I became more determined to than ever to bring awareness to the senior community about taking care of each other.
That’s right! We must find creative ways of taking care of each other. We can do it up close and personal, or even cross-country. I am passionate about doing things as a senior for other seniors. I have decided to move beyond the so-called limitations of my own senior life to bolster the life of another. I am an advocate, life coach and resource finder for the seniors in my community and it is so fulfilling.
Many, like my mother, believed their lives are over when careers and child-rearing days are over. We must also not feel that we can do it alone. Senior life is not kind to everyone, and the tendency to isolate is strong. A friend who recently had two knee surgeries is using her time of healing to write e-books about how to prepare for doing things alone. When her nearby adult children did not come by to bring meals, comfort or conversation, she cried for a while, then went about setting up her own “get well” center. She is now working on sketching for her get-well cards and starting an over-seventy group on Facebook. The possibilities of helping others in our generation are endless.
Most things I do today, are in honor of my mother who was a great and multi-talented woman, and doing things for my peers gives me great pleasure.
Why not get connected with other seniors in unique ways? Reach beyond the regular seniors’ groups and clubs and track down a senior who is isolated and afraid. Check your local listings for ways to connect and I promise you will never regret it. Enhancing the life of someone else is never a wasted effort.