The Goodbye Girl: Helping My Senior Mother Deal with the Almost Daily Deaths


goodbyeAs the sole sibling living in relative proximity (about an hour away) of my recently-widowed mother, I spend nearly every day thinking about what she is doing. And still, I can't figure out if - as an idea or goal - it's good or bad. I suspect that many of you also spend their days wondering how to keep your aging parents happy, busy, entertained and are constantly struggling to find ways to stave off their loneliness.

There is a dichotomy here, and it is one that is implicit in every action I take concerning caring for my mother. I can control some of the control-lables - the number of visits I make, the outings I plan, the in between phone calls - and there is great satisfaction in the process and in the result. But, what I can't control, is that part of being a senior living in a center for the elderly, is that daily life is punctuated with the blaring sirens of the emergency medical teams and the sight of paramedics flashing past my mom's window to aide an ailing neighbor. "They're here pretty much every day," my mom tells me.

During a recent visit to the senior living center where my recently-widowed mother lives, I accompanied her to Mass and was delighted by the friends who greeted her afterwards in the church vestibule and the community of friends that beckon daily as she makes her way to the community center lunch, the laundry room and the mailbox. Actually, I always tell her how much I wish at my stage of life that I could live in a place where people gather for lunch, and where neighbors greet you daily and notice if you haven't walked past their front window.

But, then the moment took a twist. As we were winding our way back to her apartment, a neighbor approached the group to announce that the woman who lives just three doors down from my mom had died early that morning. It seems she had been sick for a long time, and that the paramedics had arrived late Saturday afternoon to bring her to the hospital.

I watched as my mom put her hands to her heart, sucked in her breath and tried to fight back tears. "Oh no, no..." she said. And, soon a crowd of seniors had gathered on the walkway, sharing their guesses as to what happened.

I realize I can't control this part of my mom's life. Sadness and loss are daily companions. It is what living in your 80's is like. I realize I will be miserable if I don't make peace with that. So this week, our "outing," my next visit, is to accompany my mom to the wake, another goodbye.

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---Mary Beth Sammons