This Next Phase

Hi! Remember me?

That’s okay, my family doesn’t either.

I’ve been in Knoxville a lot and will be a bit more until we get Mom’s stuff moved to Huntsville and her condo on the market. This has been an exhausting/trying phase in my life and I just am so grateful that I have spent so much time in therapy making it easier for me to serve my Mom in this way. I mean, not that I couldn’t have done it before therapy, but I had a lot of hidden crap to work through that I discovered after my dad died and this is all much easier with a lot of that shit excavated from my soul.

It’s actually easier to serve everyone after going through therapy during that time because I developed so many skills to help keep that shit from settling in my soul like it had for the years before. Now, sometimes I forget to actively use those tools and I’ll wake up one morning and be like, “Ooop…look at all that shit…I forgot to stay on top of that,” but the great thing about therapy is that the lessons never expire so you dust off the shovels (hopefully no need for the excavator again) and scoop it out and feel fresh and clean.

But it is all very exhausting for a lot of reasons that I don’t really ever talk about here but my poor friends and family get earfuls if they ever spend more than 5 minutes with me in the real world.

“Hi! It’s good to see you! Can we talk about my life for the next 30 minutes? THANKS!”

All of this has put me in an introspective headspace about caring for parents as a general transition in one’s life. I can’t help but think about how the last 2 years would have looked so much different if I hadn’t lost my job. I definitely couldn’t have helped Mom get to/from work for the 6 months she lost her license, and without that time with her I’m not sure what I would be doing now that she had to take early retirement. Granted, we would have more money to maybe help her financially instead, but I’m not sure that cash would just be sitting around, it probably would have been earmarked for other savings.

I just can’t help but be so very grateful for 3 things that make all of this possible: 1) she lived within driving distance (3.5 hours with 2 good stops along the way) and 2) I have the freedom to not work and so I can help her and 3) there is other family – my brother and her siblings – besides me who can also help in other ways.

You hear stories all the time of elderly people living in not-so-great conditions and the implied concern is always, “Where are the people that keep an eye on them?” But the more I reflect on the other ways this could have gone, the more I see how easily that happens. How easily a senior could end up living in terrible conditions. If I hadn’t been geographically close enough to help my Mom 2 years ago I might not have realized how much struggle she was having in daily life. Parents hide that kind of stuff in phone calls. If I hadn’t been financially secure enough to not work and help her, she would just be stuck in this condo after early retirement until her money ran out and…I don’t know what happens then?

I mean…I know the end results: The state puts seniors who have no one to care for them and no money to care for themselves in medicaid-funded assisted living facilities…but what does that look like in the in-between? Who packs up their family china? Does it all just get confiscated by the state?

My Mom is still determined to be as independent as possible, I just can’t imagine what any of this would look like if she didn’t have two children financially secure enough to help. And I think of all of the people aging who don’t have the luxury of financially stable children because systemically, generational poverty is a very real problem in our country.

I will say this though: I really don’t want to hold onto things into my retirement now.

After we downsized we really changed the way we looked at our attachment to things because both of us discovered we suffered this mild anxiety over the quantity of things we had…like an invisible weight on our soul that we didn’t know was there until we lifted it by moving into a house a little over 1/3 the size of the previous one. But now that I’m having to clean out and pack up my Mom’s condo which is not much smaller than my house, I’m really wanting to make sure that we never grow beyond what we have now. Ideally, we trim down more and more as we age so that we’re not stressing out about what someone is doing with our stuff when it’s no longer something we can do ourselves. I know it stresses Mom out knowing that I’m the one making all of the decisions right now and I hate there’s not a way to make this transition without having to kinda take that power away from her due to time constraints, financial limitations, and her limitations due to her health.

It’s a learning experience, that’s for sure. And there’s still tons left to learn. This is all new territory for me.

I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot lately too, about how we would have loved to have served him in this way. He gave up his life raising us as a single Dad and we never got to return the favor by helping him in anyway in retirement. I do know 100% though – that he’d be grateful we were helping Mom. I think he worried about our relationship with her since we only saw her every other weekend and I think it would make him happy to know we could serve her in this way when she needed us.

He saw it a bit after her aneurysm in 2002 when my brother and I both stepped up in various ways (My brother moreso than me since I had kids at the time and he didn’t) – and I know it eased his mind a bit. He sat at the hospital with me and E the night she was hospitalized in Knoxville before they flew her to Vanderbilt and I remember his concern and his desire to help in some way but not knowing how. I do wish I could talk to him now like we did during those months getting Mom back on her feet after her aneurysm. I remember his counsel often and like with every other point since he died…I miss it.

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