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July 4, 2017

Elderly Mothers and Independence

“I don’t know why my daughter is so worried about me,” Mom said to her table-mate, Diana. I was leaving for a week-long trip.   I had reminded her I was going, wrote it on her large wall calendar, left notes around her room and let the staff of the Retirement Community know that I would be gone. Didn’t help. “I’m doing just fine,” she said as I kissed her good-bye. With great superiority, she waved me off.

What is it about feeling superior? Do we all do it? Do we have an innate sense that we are better, or smarter, or healthier, or superior in some way to those around us?  My mother certainly has an inflated sense of self. She says SHE doesn’t really belong at the Retirement Community where we, her children, have stuck her. She isn’t one of the “droolers” she says, and she is certainly not among the derelicts that have washed up there. In actuality, of course, she is frail, fragile and sliding slowly into dementia. Yes, she belongs there but will not admit it.

Mom just turned 98 last week and she was feeling particularly superior to the other residents of the Retirement Community where she now resides. She was older than everyone, or so she thought, and she still has a husband, more or less. (He’s off in Virginia somewhere). Now, however, she has learned that there are a number of residents who are in their 90s,  several older than she, and several with husbands.  So much for superiority.

Within three days of my leaving on my trip, she had forgotten where I was. I received a frantic call from the staff that Mom was “crying her eyes out” wondering where her daughter was and why I didn’t come to see her. They reminded her that I would be back soon. Two days later, another phone call. More tears, more sense of abandonment.

My sister and I agree, Mom is not a whiner. We never saw her cry when we were growing up. Stiff upper lip and all that. She must be making up for it now. She cries when they have musical entertainment. She cries when no one sits at her table to eat. She cries over Bunko.  She cries if she’s messed in her pants (thank you, Lord, for Depends, when she remembers to put them on). She cries if I don’t show up to see her. She doesn’t cry all the time, but it is getting close.

I can’t decide whether it is a good idea to check on her three or four times a day as I have been doing.  If she truly wants to feel superior, I should let her have the independence she demands. I should let her choose her own clothes, remember to put on her Depends, make it to meals without a reminder, and learn to make friends with the other inmates—sorry—residents. But then come the frantic phone calls and the tears and the demands to know where I am.

Independence? Superiority? Guess not.


Elderly Mothers
About Caroline Castillo Crimm
Retired Professor Emeritus from Sam Houston State University, interested in writing novels and speaking about topics such as the history of Latin American. Would like to share the AMAZING world of the 18th century in Northern New Spain, that's Spanish Texas and Mexico!
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