My Blog

November 21, 2015

Elderly Mothers don’t grow old gracefully


On the roads again

On the roads again

And a great voice rose up. And it said, “Take up thy rod and thy staff and follow me.” And he bought her a plane ticket to Florida.  And she took up her friggin’ canes and decided she was going back to Hubby Al in Florida. And there was great consternation in the land.

Hubby Flatbottom – silently (he rarely expresses his opinions aloud). He’s her husband, he should take care of her.

Bro Joe – don’t take her to the airport, tell her she can’t go.

Sister-in-law (who suffered with her in Atlanta) – she shouldn’t go, she can’t take care of herself.

Sister Sara – let her go. If she dies out there on the road, so be it.

And I start tearing my hair in great chunks from my already-showing-signs-of- male-pattern-baldness head. What on earth should I do?

The problem is Al. He is a tall, gangly, tennis-playing 85year-old who has been with Mom for nearly forty years. Five years ago, they finally got married, hitched, legally conjoined, headed for connubial bliss, and made as one by Judge Danny Pierce, our local County Judge. It had been a long time coming.

As I’ve commented in other blogs, Al is very strange. We think he has high-functioning Asbergers. Is that how you say it? I’m not sure. He has no home and lives out of his car. As they cruise the highways and byways on their route following the tennis circuit north and south, he rents rooms in people’s homes, usually Indians-from-India, or elderly ladies needing additional income. They have a series of people who know them and places they rent on each north-south expedition.


Swimming pool in Orlando

Swimming pool in Orlando

Winter time, he goes to Florida and rents from an Indian lady named Superna. He leaves the house at about 5 am and knows which fancy hotels in and around the Orlando area have The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and all the local papers as well.  He cruises each of the hotels, collecting newspapers, and feeding off the free buffets. He  brings home bananas and muffins and slabs of cold egg omelettes and crusty croissants for Mom. Then they eat his ill-gotten gains in bed while he peruses all the newspapers. Then he takes her to the pool to swim. He’s never too busy to take her, unlike me. (Guilt strikes again).

After going through all the newspapers, he leaves them piled in great heaps around their room. Mom makes a half-hearted effort to dig out from under and throw them away. From this mass of material, he can remember every single word he reads. He just can’t put the ideas together into a coherent whole. It is possible to talk to him about whatever he’s been reading for about fifteen minutes. You actually think he is, maybe, a retired brain surgeon or a brilliant physicist. Then you realize he’s well, NOT.

Mom reads the funnies

Mom reads the funnies

But he gets along amazingly well in society, winding his way through free breakfasts and lunches, checking out dumpsters with still-good food, raiding trash piles for useable anything, and always finding fairly fresh flowers to bring home for Mom. I don’t think he steals them off graves. That I know of. But you never can tell.

The problem is that he doesn’t cook. She has to do the cooking. I don’t know if you remember my blogs about the burned beans in the pressure cooker, or the splatter of spaghetti on the inside of the microwave, or the boiled-over oatmeal, or the pizza on the paper plate in the broiler of the oven. This is why we gently suggested she come stay with me.

But now, stubbornly, she says she’s been cooking for herself for 96 years. She’s fine. She can take care of herself. And Al takes good care of her. And she’s not going to fall. And she is not going to get sick. And she’s not going to starve. And she’s not going to have any trouble making her way up and down Superna’s stairs to the second floor.

To refuse to let her go is to suggest she is incompetent, useless, stupid, inadequate, worthless, whatever. I certainly don’t mean that, but I can promise you, the mere suggestion is going to get her dander up. And make her more determined than ever to go.

I cringe . . . and cower. “Yes, Mom, I’ll get the car.”

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!
  1. Really? Or is this an accurate memory? If it’s real then, I’m with Hubby, Mano and Sara (what about Charlie?). Let her go. It’s a decision (which by the way is one you’ve already made in your heart given the glowing, exciting life you describe with Al, as opposed to mundane, drab, lack-in-luster, living in the trailer) needing your approval. Yes, she may die for whatever reason in Florida…but she’s dying anyway, anywhere. Martha Lou is many things, aptly described during this excellent exercise, but she’s not stupid. You may even find that she doesn’t really want to go, she may just be needing/wanting your approval…not sure, but either way, let her go.

  2. Facing thr slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at 96 would daunt even the most dauntless. Ah yes, my mother has lived a long and full life. And I for one would say: yes, she is married. Al is her husband and should (I repeat should) be caring for her. Ship her to Florida. My wife Cindy and I hosted mom and Al for six months last summer. I understand the challenge and appreciate my sister Carolines huge sacrifice caring for her at home, with the help of sis Sarah. But, as the bard so aptly hath said, here comes the rub . When ensconced in Florida, If, or more likely, when, Mom goes, false teeth over pantunflas down the flight of stairs, and needs hospitalization or 24 hour care, who will Al call? It will be the sibling closest to Florida. That will be me. (caution, guilt trip alert ahead) And I know I gave her more trouble than my brother and sisters did combined. I beat my breast at this point.
    So, the live and let live side of my brain says: Pack her bags.
    The selfish, I don’t want to fool with the hassle side of me says: Sis, you are doing a fabulous job. Take away her photo ID and her debit card and keep her there.
    Either way, we are learning more and more about how to slog through those slings and arrows with family in tow.

  3. What a tough spot to be in: love split in two directions, no easy answer for you, Caroline. And whichever path you take, you will feel guilty if anything bad happens. And whether you force your mom to stay or let her go, negative outcomes will eventually happen–it’s just a matter of time. My advice? Pray about it, make the best decision you can, and refuse to let yourself regret the outcome. You have the best of intentions and are a wonderful daughter. This may be a period of trial for your mom. If she goes, it may not go well for her and she will want to return (leave the door open). If she stays she may remain healthier and, especially, safer than if she goes. But she may resent you for it, and resentment makes people sick. May God inspire you to make the best decision for both you and your mother. And may He fill you with peace about it all.

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