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getting down to the basics

when the table turns: getting down to basics

by Judy 
May 26, 2014

My mom had her 98th birthday a few weeks ago. We had a very simple celebration at home. Her dear niece Barbara flew in from California and Pat, her trusted caregiver, and Pat’s daughter and grandchildren came. Mom stayed in bed most of the day and in the afternoon went into the dining room for the birthday cake with lit candles. Nothing too elaborate. That is what she wanted. Barbara had brought a beautiful shawl that had been hand knitted by a good friend of hers who feels a close connection to my mom.

The next day I put a photo of my mother on Facebook wrapped in this shawl looking like she was in the middle of a flower petal. There were beautiful responses to the post and later after I read them all to her, she commented on how she’s not doing anything and still having an impact. Laughingly she said I was making her famous.

When I put her picture up and got all these heartfelt responses, I felt like I was sharing love with everyone. In this case, the love for my mom but also love in general: a celebration of her essence and a celebration of all that is good in human beings – of tenderness, sweetness, humor; that which touches our heart and that in ourselves which wants to give and care for others: all this was evoked by the picture of her on Facebook.

We all age differently. Even what old means keeps changing. At the age of 98, I can say that my mom is finally what could be called old - old in the sense that she has lost so much vitality and isn’t doing anything anymore except at moments when she resurfaces to interact, ask a question, listen to a human interest story, sometimes worry about something real or imagined, and most beautifully when she resurfaces to laugh and give that smile that melts your heart, a smile so genuine and innocent.

Everything is down to the basics now. When my mom is unhappy, she expresses it. Hard to hear, but fortunately it doesn’t last long. In terms of the past, sometimes she will remember people and incidences and laugh as if it happened just yesterday. And then there are a few things – not many - that still haunt my mom. One is about her first cousin, Dorothy, who she was very close to, like a sister, and who she didn’t get to see before she died. Dorothy asked my Mom to come visit at one point when she was not in very good shape. Her children told my mom not to come and very soon after that Dorothy died. It still bothers my mom that she didn’t go to see Dorothy and so far nothing I say gives her resolution. Luckily these pangs of regret don’t come often and don't last too long.

At my mom’s age, it can be very raw. I don’t know if there is a Universal aging process, as I am aware that not everyone ages in the same way, but at least in my mom’s case, and I think for others as well, there is a softening - the defenses fall away and what once was embarrassing is no longer. It’s like a shedding occurs – shedding of the outer veneer and the inner “shoulds” and what emerges is someone very soft, fragile, very real and sensitive. My mother is extremely sensitive: sensitive to noise, touch, disturbances - sensitive to hearing bad news, be it on the television or in anyone’s life. It really bothers her.

At the same time, certain things are no longer so important anymore. I think this does occur with some people as they age. They are the fortunate ones. For example Andrea’s mom is no longer living in her home of many years and yet this is not so important to her anymore. She was able to change her living circumstances without much of a ripple. For my mom, clothes and outer appearances had been quite important, but not so anymore. Really so much of what had been important has dropped away as something else has taken precedence.

That something else is the human connection that is expressed through the voice, touch, smile, kind gestures. My mom loves just to hear the sound of my voice. She can’t see so well anymore, but just the particular tone of my voice brings her comfort. And I understand exactly how she feels for I love hearing her voice too. It’s very elemental…getting down to the basics. The basics, in this case, meaning our very dear connections with each other and how we treat each other. I’ve written about this before but in a way one can’t say it enough. In the end and really all through the journey, it’s our connections which really matter and which make all the difference.


Mom and Pat, her caregiver


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