Tuesday, January 17, 2012


I have been asked for space for a guest blogger today.  She is my beloved SWMBO.  She Who Must Be Obeyed, for those of you who don't know.

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A Suitable Dungeon

     More than thirty years ago I found myself in the terrible position of deciding my mother's future.  She had had a couple of "minor" strokes and my father had recently passed away.

   It wasn't safe any longer for her to live alone in their retirement house in Florida.  She left stove burners on and forgot them.  She stumbled frequently and almost fell.

   I was summoned from across the country to "come and help me deal with Mother."  My sister had moved near our parents when they retired to Florida.  But she was still working and "the mother situation" had become critical.  It was obvious that we had to deal with the problem quickly and I was required to be there.

   We started looking at potential "retirement centers" . . really nursing homes.  Upon returning to her house the first day we found Mother sitting on the edge of her bed.  She looked up and gave us an evil look and said, "Well, did you find a suitable dungeon for me today?"

   We were spent from the mental and physical effort of the day.  Both of us plopped on the bed beside our mother and one of us said,  "No, not today, Mother," and we laughed rather hysterically.  Mother looked at both of us and couldn't see the humor in the situation.

   The next day we heard of a brand new retirement center that was opening in three weeks.  We took the tour and instantly decided it was perfect.

   Mother had been a gardener and bird watcher all her life.  We told her of the beautiful gardens all around the place.  She inquired as to whether she could take her bird bath with her and put it in one of the gardens.  We said we would see if that could happen.

   We scheduled a visit for the three of us to do a walk-through of a possible apartment for Mother.  It was on the third floor.  She liked the sparkling newness of it all and that she could take her own furniture and personal things.  We walked out on her private balcony and looked around.  One of us mentioned that the bird bath would like nice down below in the garden.

   Mother looked around for a minute and said, "That bird bath would be so far away I wouldn't know if they were drinking or shitting!"  Then she stomped away.  My sister and I looked at each other and knew we had work to do.

   Over the next few days we lobbied for the place by pointing out the amenities.  "You can have your own little refrigerator and microwave and coffee maker.  You won't have to cook major meals.  They will be served to you in the dining room."

   "I won't know any of those people," she snarled.

   "But you can get to know them."

   "Why should I?  None of my friends will know where I have gone.  Nobody will ever visit me." 

   She had really been a loner, almost anti-social and suddenly she worried that the few friends she had would never visit her.  She worried that no one would speak to her at the dinner table.  It was rather ridiculous that one of the best-read, most informed persons in the area was worried that there would be nothing in common with these people.

   But slowly she started to look semi-kindly on the new place.  It was very different from anything she'd ever known.  The move proceeded.

   There was a terrible wrangle over her learning to use an electric coffee maker rather than perking her coffee on the stove.  "I know good coffee and I know bad coffee and this stuff is bad."

   One morning as we sipped our "bad coffee" in the new living room a movement outside the picture window attracted my attention.  A giant Blue Heron was leaning down to drink from the bird bath in the front yard.  He was so casual about it.  My heart was pounding as I whispered to my mother, "Look, oh look at that!"

   She said, "Oh yes, he stops by a few mornings a week for a drink."

   Mother adjusted quickly and was quite satisified with her new home for the rest of her time.

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   My daughter and I have lunch together often on Fridays.  Last week she handed me a brochure for a new retirement center in town that is holding an open house for the public in a week or two.  She asked if I'd be interested in going and looking it over.  I said I'd like that. 

   When I came home and handed the brochure to my husband, he asked "Has she found a suitable dungeon for us?"

--by Judith Taylor


Stephen Hayes said...

Quite a poignant story, and one I can relate to. My mother recently moved into a retirement facility and I really chuckled over the "bad coffee" references. My mother will only drink perked coffee and has even pulled out my late father's camping coffee pot so she can perk coffee in her room. My mother has all sorts of strange habits but when I discuss them with my thirty-something year old son he just rolls his eyes. I think he's already begun the process of hunting for a suitable dungeon for his mother and me.

Steve said...

Judith, if I may be so bold to use your first name, that is a lovely story. I guess when people say what goes around comes around is sort of true. Bruce, nice response. As my wife and I get older, we have talked about apartment living some day. Yard work is fine, but not as enjoyable as time moves on.

One question. Do they have WiFi there?

Steve in Germany

Lucy said...

Yep, reminded me of my mum too. I remember my sister taking her in a birthday cake and telling her there was a file baked inside it; sometimes that kind of humouring seemed better than trying to be upbeat and jolly and telling her to count her blessings.

I'm glad your mother settled in, after her fashion, in the end. I always swear I won't be nasty and sour to whoever has the job of trying to look after me in old age, and I hope I'd never feel so sorry for myself I couldn't appreciate the wonder of a heron at the bird bath!

Those exasperating things that become family catchphrases help in the end, don't they?

Thanks for your guest post, Judith.

Tom Cochrun said...

Terrific story! Superbly written and told. This guest blogger provides some real talent to the blogosphere.

Also a great rejoinder there from The Catalyst.

Just make sure that, in your future, should such a move occur and should there be a bird bath, you can see what it is exactly the bird is up to, that is if you wish to know.

Great post!

Imaskeptic said...

Watch ur back Bruce.... The Boss can write a great story, maybe freelance for The Atlantic?

The Bug said...

I'm with Steve - if there's wifi then I'm all set :)

Bernie said...

I am sure most families go through this time and it must be very difficult. My mother passed away at 73 still living in her home. I am not a fan of nursing homes, but who knows what is in store for us. I so enjoyed you sharing your story with us.......:-) Hugs

Lowandslow said...

I've never had to face this issue with my parents, but I can imagine how difficult it would be. Today my stepmom lives in a retirement home that is spectacular...a great dining room for 2 meals a day, her own one bed/one bath apartment, maid service weekly, trips on their bus to the grocery store, the mall, and elsewhere on request. It's really pretty sweet, more like a penthouse than a dungeon. Hope you can find something similar. :)


PS: SWMBO should write more. She's great.

Jarart said...

That was a great story, funny and at the same time sad.

Magpie said...

Oh, I needed to read this. Thank you so much for sharing. "Jarart" shared your link with me as I am now going through a so very similar situation with my mother. It is so nice to hear that there may be light at the end of the tunnel. I love your family's sense of humor. I will borrow your phrase and share with my family.

Sharon said...

What a wonderful and touching story. I know someone who is going through this right now and her mother is gradually adjusting to the change.

Joan Perry said...

Well written description of a difficult time. It's a shame aging is often so humiliating. I've learned that after the bitter pill is swallowed, retirement homes can often be big social success stories and people wonder why the transition was so hard.

Meggie said...

I really enjoyed this story. My mother had a real dread of having to go into a 'home'. She was lucky, and remained at home until the end. I was lucky enough to be able to nurse her in the last few months of her life.
But! I have told my children they are not to stress over me when I get older & more stubborn...always supposing I do, of course.

Thérèse said...

Sharing is always helpful and listening to our own kids often shows the right path if we feel we gave them the right education in the past and see the results in their own daily life.
Thks for these words to both of you.