My 89-year-old mother is at the time in her life when she has enough pills to take that she needs a pill organizer. Of course, organizing the pill organizer requires remembering what she needs to take and when. When I say “what,” I don’t mean the name of the pill and/or its function, she remembers what she needs to take by size, color, and shape. She is, to put it mildly, a reluctant pill taker. She doesn’t think about how they’re helping her, but how they and the doctors who have prescribed them are torturing her by making her swallow them. Though credit where credit is due, she has finally managed to swallow each of her pills, one-at-a-time, without loud complaints. Instead, she now gives herself a self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back when her mission is accomplished, each time.
There are also eye-drops and ear-drops, which, surprisingly, she manages to take without too much complaining, and astonishment at her expertise.
For a month, she needs to measure her blood pressure morning and night. But this is too technological for her, so I put the cuff on her upper arm. I make her push the button to turn it on because it seems important that she participates in her care and maintenance. It could also be that I’m uncomfortable taking on a carer role.
It’s interesting to live with an older person, where “interesting” needs to convey an element of sadness. I told my daughters that she’s not the grandma they remember taking them all over Manhattan, rushing uptown, downtown, and crosstown like a true New Yorker. There is a progression. There is change.
The other day, she commented on her good skin. I thought she was kidding. She was not. Her skin had been smooth for years, even with her never putting on moisturizer or face cream. But at some point, her entire face creased and crinkled. Can you consider your skin being good if it resembles a caricature of an old lady’s wrinkled face?
Perhaps I’ve finally learned not to correct her, so I nodded, wondering how we see ourselves when we’re away from mirrors.
At dinner recently at yet another lousy local Chinese restaurant with her and a friend of hers, they talked about how the previous week at lunch my mother seemed like a different person. That didn’t sound good. And when she got into the car after stopping at the local library, she said that she had been a little confused and someone asked her if she needed help. That didn’t sound good either.
And she fell again. This time, just a cut. But still.
It makes me realize that I, too, don’t see her for who she is. It’s not easy to see a parent as no longer the fully capable person they’ve always been. A parent holds us in-place, makes it so we aren’t really this older person who is called “ma’am” and overlooked. This is about me aging too.
About a month ago at a different restaurant, I joked with the server about older people and then I realized, before I could laugh, that he probably saw me, too, as an older—old?—person. That dinner was for my 62nd birthday.
I realize now, as I sit here thinking about my mother aging, that I need to use the life I have left on life, not on a holding pattern till death. Glass half-full. Glass half-empty. There is sustenance in both. One feels more enjoyable than the other. I want that! To feel refreshed as I move forward, not lukewarm and worn out. Perhaps I can help her see how full far less than half-a-cup can be.