My mother has been going through the five stages of grieving with her move from a four bedroom house in Maine to a two bedroom apartment in my town.
Truth be told, she began those stages many months ago with stage one, denial, as she maintained that she was doing just fine remaining in the house I grew up in, despite the repeated phone calls to me about things that needed doing, needed fixing, needed managing and her ‘difficulty’ in finding people to do them. Mom’s not necessarily an easy person to ‘work’ for – she has very definite, very black and white ideas of how things should be done, how long they should take, and how much they should cost, and deviations from those ideas are not easily tolerated or accepted. This has caused her to lose the people who plowed and mowed for her a few times, as her demands became more unreasonable to them and they eventually determined that what they were making for the jobs were not really worth the ‘cost’ to them.
Over the past several months, leading up to her move, I made several trips to Maine to assist Mom with medical appointments and evaluations, buying a new car (before we knew she’d be taking a mandatory driving test this fall), and general household duties. My ‘once a month’ trips up became two, three, or more trips up, for either a day or a couple of days. This was one of the major prompts for her relocation, as it became increasingly difficult to devote the necessary time to the driving involved (anywhere from 4 – 5 hours round trip, plus whatever time was spent helping her).
Mom’s move has relieved her of numerous ‘anxieties’ she was facing regularly. No longer does she fret about the weather and road conditions if she has an appointment to get to. She can shop for a full week rather than a few days at a time whereas someone is there to bring all the bags in for her. Not driving means not worrying about whether her driveway is too icy or too loaded with snow to get out of her garage. High winds don’t cause her stress about a tree branch coming through her roof for the third time. All of these concerns are no longer an issue for her.
Some days I would love to have someone show up at my door and tell me they were going to take three to five of my largest concerns in life away for me and I would no longer have to worry about them. I’d go for even one on a regular basis. I don’t have that luxury.
The other day, when the reality set in that she will no longer be a licensed driver and that there is an interested party to buy her months-old car, Mom hit another stage of grief: Anger. Mom is convinced that the DMV in Maine relieved her of her license ‘illegally’ and without just cause whereas she’s been a safe driver for over fifty years with no incidents at all on her record. She either cannot or will not accept that not knowing the rules of the road and not recognizing the meaning of common road signs has made her an unsafe driver, and she places blame solely upon the shoulders of the DMV. She now refers to that state agency with a few colorful expletives attached, and blames them entirely for their ‘stupid pieces of paper’ and ‘regulations’. I listen, and sometimes calmly try to explain that unfortunately the regulations are there for everyone’s safety, including hers, but ‘anger’ is a powerful filter that is difficult to penetrate. Therefore, I mostly listen, at least for right now.
She also touched upon stage 3 recently, ‘bargaining’, when she inquired if she’d be able to get a license in Massachusetts irrespective of what Maine has said. I informed her that the states are usually rather diligent about their sharing of information, so she’d likely face a denial if she applied for a license in Massachusetts, and be faced with another exam at the very minimum. This realization brought her back to stage 3 again, anger.
All of this, in conjuncture with the prospect of her home of 48 years being sold in the coming months, and with the physical limitations she is experiencing in greater amount these days, is contributing to stage four: Depression. Day upon day now, when I spend time with her, she laments everything she’s ‘lost’ as she puts it, without taking the time to ponder how much she’s gained – less anxiety, less stress, less ‘obligation….more time with her grandchildren, more time with her son, a ready-made driver and personal shopper (me), someone to cook for her (me), someone to try to put her on a better, more nutritious diet (me), someone to clean for her (me), someone to track her medical appointments (me)…..I’ve become her executive assistant, chauffeur, private nurse, nutritionist, and butler as well as her son (that isn’t a complaint).
The final stage of grieving, acceptance, is going to be very difficult for Mom to come by. She’s got 83 years of ‘fighting’ under her belt….doing whatever she had to to survive on her own….taking care of herself….and it will take a veritable ‘act of God’ to get her to relinquish that…or ever become comfortable with it. I don’t wish to ‘short-change’ her in terms of abilities and intellect, but knowing her the way I do, I anticipate that ‘acceptance’ will be a stage she might not ever reach. Acquiescence is perhaps the most I can hope for.
There is a glimmer of ‘hope’ for something positive for her. She’s met a couple of nice ladies at the local Senior Center who she’s at least interested enough in to talk to. We attended their ‘Holiday Sing-Along’ last week, and as I’d hoped it prompted people to come over and say hello after I got up and sang a couple of traditional holiday tunes, and one of the ladies even gave Mom her phone number. It’s not huge, but it’s a start. I’ve hinted to Mom that perhaps she should use the phone number to call and inquire when this woman might next be having lunch at the center, and make plans to be there on that day as well, either with my assistance, or the center’s transportation program. She said it was a ‘good thought’ and she’d ‘consider it’…..but it’s really not ‘in her nature’ to mingle with new people and make new friends. She’s a tough nut to crack, my mother. Very determined, and very stubborn.
At times I think she fails to realize that in many ways, I’m just as determined and stubborn as she is…if not more….and I’ve got all sorts of creative tricks up my sleeve to get her to mingle…and make new friends….no matter how doggedly she tries to thwart my efforts.
The five stages of grief are not easy to get through. Neither are the changes that Mom is experiencing. I get it, I empathize with it, and I am doing everything in my power to help her through it. She feels that she’s lost everything…that she has reached the end of her life.
I have a different take on it, which I’ve shared with her. This isn’t the ‘end’ of her life….it’s simply a new chapter…a new beginning…a reinvention. All stories come to a conclusion, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t new ones to tell. It’s not uncommon and completely understandable to mourn the loss of a life she crafted for herself for 48 years in her home in Maine. It’s okay to go through the five stages of grief to realize that portion of her life, that story, has come to an end. And then, when the last lines of that story are read, and absorbed, and reflected upon, it’s time to start a new one.