Upon returning tonight from a visit to my mother at her assisted living facility in Florida, I find myself with much to reflect upon.
Mom informed me this weekend that she likes where she is – that she is content. These words, while gratifying to hear; still sounded so odd coming from her. Mom loved her home in Maine, although she regularly expressed frustrations with taking care of it and getting people to help with things. She ‘liked’ her apartment near me when she resided in Massachusetts for several months, but she didn’t have a ‘view’ as she did in Maine, and didn’t really know the people in the other units. She was ‘glad’ she got the chance to stay with my brother for a few months at his home in Florida (before the transition to assisted living), but no place before this has she expressed this level of contentment with.
I must admit I’m pleased with what I’ve seen there. The rooms and halls are clean. The caregivers are kind and attentive. They are friendly when I visit. I’ve not got a criticism of the place to offer at all. It’s not terribly large…it’s not what I’d call ‘elaborate’, such as some of the other facilities I’ve come across over time offering three times the amenities at thirty times the price. But it’s quiet, well-kept, and Mom feels content there. I feel safe having her there, despite the distance. My visit this weekend was the first since the end of August when my son and I went down to see her.
We had dinner Friday night and then went for a drive to a nearby ‘park’ along the ocean. I pulled into a parking space in the lot, as near the water as we could get without walking, and we watched the sun go down together. Mom asked me, as we sat looking at the last fiery burst of daylight reflecting on the water, if I am ‘happy’, and if I know how much she loves me.
Sometimes the simplest questions are the most complex to answer. It’s odd to have her ask me this right on the heels of a discussion I had with my therapist just the day before about growing up feeling unimportant or at least not as important as other things and other people, and how when I first started seeing a therapist some fourteen years ago and I related an incident from years past and was asked why I never ‘did anything about it’ – my response was ‘Because who the fuck am I? Why am I important? What do I matter?’ It was the way I felt. It was the way I’d felt for a very long time. It’s a long road to travel to stop feeling that way. Some never reach that place. I, fortunately, have. At least for the most part.
But all that was just too complex and too heavy to delve into while we sat there and talked. I don’t want my mother to carry my burdens at this point in her life. I know they are mine to work out. She has enough weighing her down. I do matter and I am important, but she’s not the audience to hear about it at this point.
I answered her question in a way that both answered it and avoided it at the same time. I didn’t want to deceive her, but at the same time I wanted to ask her the same question and not dwell upon myself. She’s been through a lot of change in the past year. She moved twice (three times, really, if you count the stay at my brother’s), she’s losing more and more of her short term memory and her long-term memory combined. Her siblings have all passed before her, as well as one of her children. She stopped driving. Her car and home were sold. Her belongings (what was worth preserving) were boxed up and moved to my house. She now occupies a 10 x 18 room with private bath rather than a four bedroom home with two car garage on a half-acre of land that she fought for and struggled to maintain.
Once I’d given her a brief response, I turned the question around and said, ‘How about you – are you happy?’
She looked out the windshield of the car, and thought a bit about it. It’s something that she hasn’t, I suspect, spent much time contemplating in terms of herself. Knowing my mother the way I do, she’s spent a lot of time trying to please others and worrying about their happiness rather than her own. I’m not sure if anyone has ever asked her the same question.
‘I’ve got a lot to be grateful for.’ She said. ‘I’ve had to give up a lot, but it’s okay where I am. They treat me good. I don’t have to do anything. They do it all. I wish you were closer, because I miss you terribly, but I know you think of me, and I know you call and visit when you can.’
‘But are you happy?’ I repeated.
‘Son, no matter where I am, or what I have, as long as you know how much I love you, as long as you truly know that in your heart, then I am happy. No matter what I’ve had to give up, no matter what happens to me, as long as you know how special you are, and how much I have always loved you, then I am happy.’
‘Then I guess the answer is yes, you are happy’ I said, ‘because I do know.’
‘Good. Then I guess I did something right.’