two are better than one #sol21 #11

She mentioned to me this morning that she was nearly finished with the first dose of what her doctor prescribed. Since it included three refills, I suggested we drop it off while we went to do her errands and then pick it up on the way back home. “Okay,” she agreed.

The pharmacy was our first stop. Assuming this would be a simple transaction, I suggested she wait in the car while I speak to the pharmacist.

“That prescription can’t be refilled for 10 days. It’s only been two.” the man in the white coat informed me.

“Hm,” I said. “I’ll call her doctor and see what can be done because she is going to need more by tomorrow.”

I walked back to the car, told her there had been a little wrinkle- but it would be easy to figure out- and phoned her doctor immediately.

“We’ll send a new prescription over to the pharmacy,” the nurse told me when she returned to the call after I’d been on hold for five minutes while she investigated the matter.

During those five minutes my mom asked me several times what was going on and why was there a problem. And she suggested she could make do with what she had.

“Nope,” I said, “we’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Once the nurse confirmed that things were in motion, my mom and I headed on to the grocery store, the hardware store, and her favorite readymade takeout meal spot a few towns over. Filling her freezer was on my to-do list today.

Two hours later, back at the pharmacy, I suggested again that she wait in the car, while I fetch her medicine. Two minutes after that I returned, empty handed, dialing the doctor’s number again.

“We can just go home and deal with this tomorrow,” she suggested as we neared ten minutes, sitting in the car in the parking lot, on hold this time while the receptionist and nurse engaged in another call with the pharmacy to figure out how to provide my mother with more medicine. I assumed insurance was snarling things up, but didn’t ask.

“Nope,” I said again. “Just take a few more minutes. I can come back tomorrow to pick it up but I want to be sure I don’t have to walk back in there to speak to the pharmacist directly.

“It’s very complicated. I’m sorry.” she murmered.

“Nope,” I replied. “We’ve nearly got it figured out.”

And we did. Together. And I wondered how this would have unfolded for her alone. Today I was here. Most days I’m not.

today was a good day to be here #sol21 #10

She sat down in the chair, leaned her head back, and closed her eyes. That would have been okay if it was 4 pm, but it wasn’t. It was 11 in the morning.

“How are you feeling today?” I asked her.

“Well, not so great,” she admitted.

I asked her a few more questions and then suggested we call her doctor.

“Not today,” she replied.

I let her decision rest and quietly continued my work.

“Do you think I should see my doctor?” It sounded like a question that might be a statement.

“I do,” I said. “Why don’t I give the office a call, and see if he can see you this afternoon?”

“Okay, thank you,” she answered.

I picked up her landline phone while Googling the doctor’s office number on my cell and tried to swallow the lump in my throat and not think too much about how this moment might have unfolded if I hadn’t been here visiting her.

it helps to call it something other than help #sol21 #9

Her house- the big beautiful one- is more than she can manage, no matter what she says or how much she loves it.

When I arrived on Sunday, I entered through the seldom used front door, navigating the loose step and soft wood threshold.

“Oh dear,” she remarked as she stepped forward to hug me, “the painters tried to fix that last summer but I guess I need to call someone.”

“Maybe we can do that this week while I’m here,” I replied, leaning down to pet her old dog who’d wandered into the hall to join us.

The late afternoon sun streams through the open door, and the cobwebs and layer of dust are on full display. Tomorrow, I think to myself, I’ll tell her I need some exercise and that is why I’m going to pull out the vacuum cleaner, furniture polish, and rags.

she really is remarkable #sol21 #8

“I am perfectly capable of…” or “”I am not too old for…” or “I can handle this on my own..” she’ll say to me, and mostly I don’t disagree. She often can, usually does, and is indeed capable. And she’s 85. Still, I try to be present and help- gently- knowing that honoring her independence is vital. She’s small, she’s slower than she was, she tires more readily, sometimes she repeats herself. She can’t hear a thing without her hearing aids in and she prefers not to wear them. But we’ll save that for another post.

This afternoon we went together to her every 6 weeks eye doctor appointment. We entered the waiting room and she walked briskly to the counter to check in. I scanned the room for a seat for her, noticing the other patients as I did. One had a caregiver who was patiently telling him that his appointment wasn’t actually until early April. I watched her guide him out the door to the parking lot. Another came in the door as they left, shuffling slowly behind her walker to the closest chair- a distance of no more than 8 feet. I exhaled quietly when she arrived, hoping the receptionist wouldn’t ask her to come closer for check in. By then, my mother had walked to the far end of the room to hang up the coat she’d just taken off. She came over to the chair I was standing next to, sat, and asked me a follow up question about Lasik surgery, a topic we’d been discussing in the car a few minutes earlier. The woman in the next chair over leaned forward as the nurse checked her temperature and asked her birthdate before asking her to follow her back to an exam room. I happened to catch the year- four years younger than my mom and watched as she tried to raise herself out of the chair but couldn’t. She apologized as the nurse helped her to her feet.

My mother asked another question. I missed it as I was silently making a list of all the things she isn’t too old for, handles on her own, and is perfectly capable of doing.

every night they do the same dance #sol21 #7

They have an evening routine too. He likes to eat early. The older he gets, the earlier he wants dinner. She prefers to have a glass of wine and watch the news first. He starts making his wishes known around 5 pm. She peers over her reading glasses and tells him in a voice that’s both gentle and firm that he really needs to wait. She’s still working on her crossword puzzle. He looks at her with big, pitiful eyes and by 5:30 guilt gets the best of her. “Okay, okay,” she sighs, rising from her chair, resigned to her reality, and willing to show the kind of grace that any lasting relationship requires. She moves to the kitchen. He looks up, but stays put. She makes small talk while assembling the meal. He listens from the next room. “Ok, it’s ready. C’mon,” she says, as she leans down and puts his food bowl next to the water bowl on the rug by the back door.

books, books, books. #sol21 #6

There was hardly a room in my childhood home where there weren’t books. Cookbooks in the kitchen, music books on the piano in the dining room, art books in the living room. Upstairs, in my mother’s office, more shelves with more books- Agatha Christie mysteries, books about raising children, and surviving middle age. There were books on the table between the two beds in the guest room. And my sister and I each had an overflowing bookshelf in our rooms. But most were in the library- a small room where all but one wall was lined with floor to ceiling shelves that were filled with my father’s books. Hemingway, Welty, Fitzgerald, Stegner, Updike, Cheever, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Cather, Frost, Salinger. Books by Irish writers, history books, books about faraway places, and several shelves of biographies and memoirs. There were even books in which he was mentioned, but those were not the ones he led me to. My father was an avid reader, book collector, and aspiring writer. If I wandered into the library on a weekend afternoon, I’d find him there, seated in the shabby, lumpy chair that was “his,” watching golf or football on the small t.v., a book in progress on the table next to him. If I lingered in front of the shelf, he’d rise from the chair and join me. “Looking for something to read?” he’d ask. He’d always wait for me to say something, and he’d listen carefully for any hints that might inform his next move. And then he’d reach for a book and put it in my hands. “Try this,” he’d say.

table for one- always #sol21 #5

Breakfast, she always told my sister and me, was not a social hour. When my children were small and we were all in the beach cottage together, I’d get them busy with toys or games on the front porch so that the kitchen and back end of the house were peaceful. I’d tell the girls that they could save all of their news for Grandma until after she’d had her second cup of coffee.

She wordlessly prepares her coffee- enough for two cups, not mugs- in a stovetop percolator, then pours a small glass of juice-always orange, with pulp- drinks it, and puts a piece of grainy bread into the toaster. The toaster, which is older than my now grown children, requires some finessing, unless you’re the charred toast type. Once, I suggested we buy a new toaster. Nope. This one is just fine. It simply requires watching she tells me. When the coffee has percolated for five minutes, it is, according to her, ready. She pours her first cup and proceeds to the table, where she has already placed the day’s local newspaper, her cup and plate with a single piece of well buttered and sometimes burned toast in hand.

It’s a table for one always. When I visit I take myself and my mug to another corner of the house and save my news for later.

each morning #sol21 #4

She and the dog emerge from her bedroom and she coaxes him across the parts of the wooden floor that are not covered with rugs. She opens the side door to let him out and retrieve her paper, then walks silently into the dining room and positions herself next to the wall of windows that look toward the garden, keeping a watchful eye as the dog makes his way slowly to the grassy area that curves around the side of the house. She moves next to the kitchen door, waiting for him to appear on the patio, nods at me and says a quiet, “Good morning.” I’ve already put the coffee on the stove. She always has to remind me how to prepare the stove top percolator that makes mediocre coffee. Holding the door open for the dog, she praises him for his outdoor accomplishments and turns to the cupboard to get a scoop of kibble. He settles on the rug just beyond the kitchen, ready for a rest, looking non-plussed about what’s now in his bowl. “Come on, you can do it. Time for your breakfast,” she says as she retrieves the chicken broth and shredded cheese from the fridge. She leans over the bowl, adds a bit of broth, and sprinkles the cheese purposefully, making sure he watches this part. The dog rallies and raises his head, slowly coming up on all fours. She stands next to the bowl until he reaches the destination, again taking careful steps on the slippery wood. He won’t tolerate the booties that help some old dogs. Of course he won’t. I know when the time comes she won’t want a cane or a walker. I think they’re in cahoots.

aging in place together #sol21 #3

Her German Shepard, the only kind of dog worth loving according to her, is aging in place too. Once, he was larger than he is now. His back legs and hips have withered, the way they do in old dogs. Once, he required two walks a day. Every day the two of them walked together two miles or more. Now, it’s a slow and cautious five minutes up the road, as far as the house next door on a good day, a landmark he could pass in less than a minute just a few years ago. He no longer stops to grasp his leash in his mouth and turn on the grass in playful circles, chasing his tail and making the kind of scene that sent us all into fits of laughter. He concentrates, taking careful steps, almost as if he knows moving is good for him, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. Sometimes he still barks at small dogs- they’ve always been the object of his disdain.

I ask her what the vet says about his legs.

He says he’s doing okay at the moment.

I ask her how she maneuvers him in and out of her car for weekly acupuncture appointments.

Ken comes down the hill and helps me. We stand on either side of the ramp and help push him up.

I ask her why she adds chicken broth and sometimes a bit of cheese to his kibble.

He’s more likely to eat if I do that. After the cat died he was lonely. He stopped eating so well.

I ask her if she and the vet have talked about what he might need in the coming days, weeks, months.

Well, he’s very much alive tonight. I don’t want to talk about it.

I ask her if she’d prefer peas or salad with tonight’s chicken.

she’s not going anywhere anytime soon #sol2021 #2

We sat down just before seven and as each of us pulled in our chairs, put our napkins on our laps, and picked up our utensils, she began to share the neighborhood goings-on since my last visit.

Did you notice all the pine trees coming down? Ken and Rick are removing them. I think it’s a good idea. Holly asked if I would take mine down while they had someone here to do the work. He charges $500 a tree, a fraction of what it normally cost. So, I said yes. She said she might pay for it.

Well I hope she does.

We’ll see. They are doing quite a number on my garden. I’m going to have to spend a lot to put that back together.

Yes- I thought. It’s a big and beautiful garden. Behind a big and beautiful house.

She continued-

The house two doors up sold for over $800,000. There’s such demand. The population in the state has increase by 20.000 since the start of the pandemic.

Wow, that’s a crazy price.

Well houses are selling left and right. I even had an agent stop here and ask me if I was interested in selling.

My ears perked up.

Have you thought about selling? It is an awfully big house for just you. And it’s so beautiful- the water view. Could be a good time to sell.

She placed her fork on her plate, adjusted slightly in her seat and looked me square in the eyes with her familiar I-am-your-mother-no-matter-how-old-I-am look.

Of course not. I like my big house. I get my exercise having a big house. The dog likes my big house too. We’re doing just fine here. I told that agent I wasn’t the least bit interested in selling.

She picked up her fork and took another bite of chicken. For now it looks like she’s going to fix up that big, beautiful garden and stay in this big, beautiful house.