“Can you believe she’s my sister?”
Gabriela* smiled patiently as she looked at me and tried to answer Mom’s query.
“Well, it’s probably a little easier for her to believe I’m you’re daughter, Ma.”
My mother tends to think of me as her sister, Sylvia, these days. She also has this idea that Sylvia recently had twin babies. Sylvia died in 2003 from pancreatic cancer. I am now 55 years old. Neither of us had twins. I don’t know where Mom gets these ideas, but her creativity is fascinating.
We were chatting in Mom’s new ground-floor room. I had requested this move after Mom fell down the stairs last July. She was now moved in, but the room upstairs had shelving where her many framed pictures could be easily placed around the perimeter. Down here, the pictures had to be hung with nails. I had contacted Connor,* one of the coordinators about handling this. Today, my mission is to place the pictures on the walls to make Mom’s new space more homey.
“Would you like some tea or something hot to drink?” Mom offered. I didn’t, but Mom did, so we went out to the kitchen and I got Mom’s request in motion. As we sat and watched the president’s inaugural festivities on TV, Connor arrived. I fixed Mom’s tea, got her situated and told Connor I was ready when he was.
I laid the pictures out on Mom’s bed and started placing them on the walls. Some of them only had easel backs and no hangers, so I placed those on flat surfaces.
Connor would climb up on his little ladder, tap in the nails and hang each framed photo in turn. He asked me about my mother’s illness and how she came to live there.
I gave him the broad strokes and explained why I thought she was in the right place. He agreed. He’d been around and he said that it wasn’t just because he worked there.
I asked him if he’d always wanted to work with older people. He said he just liked to help people, and that his brother was also a nurse who’d gotten into elder care before him.
It seemed like a good time to mention my new career in elder care. Having so much experience with my parents’ needs, I recently decided to make a business of helping families cope with their elder care planning requirements. My new company, “Light of Gray,” would provide guidance, resources and referrals.
Connor admitted that he had never looked at it from the family’s perspective, that he had always approached it as a professional. I suggested that he might consider looking at his family’s situation sooner than later.
It’s funny, I expected that he might have a better handle on the issues than someone outside the business, but the truth is, if you have to do something for a living, you’re inclined to separate yourself from the emotional components of the process so you can be effective at your job. But it’s not a good idea to let denial dictate your response to your own family’s situation. Everyone needs help with some aspect of the process somewhere along the line. That’s the beauty of this “Light of Gray” idea; it’s open-ended, and will grow with the needs of the people I serve.
I told him if he ever decided he needed help, I’d be happy to assist.
Mom came back in as we were winding up. How do you like it?
She pointed to the wedding picture of my brother and his wife over her bed. “I like that.” She looked around the room and took it in. “So, you off now? What are you making for dinner?”
“I had been thinking about pot roast…”
“It’s a little late for that now, isn’t it?” 4 o’clock? Yeah, Ma, you got me there.
She went back out to the living room and sat and chatted with one of her buddies. I had spotted Mom’s glasses in her room and grabbed them for her, gently placing them on her face.
“Ah! That’s better!” No wonder she didn’t react to the pictures; she couldn’t really see them.
I kissed Mom good-bye and waved to the others. Mission accomplished. I could return home to attend to making dinner and working on my business plan. Every day brings more opportunities, more ideas and the certainty that I’m on to something valuable.
*Not their real names