This is my favourite picture of my mom. It was taken just a couple of weeks ago, but I can picture her as a teenager. If they'd had phone cameras back then, this could be her goofing around with her girl friends. Yet she is 89, and somehow this shot takes decades off her face. I love her pure joy, and it feels very special to have captured this moment together.
Her name is Jeannie, not Grace, but it is her aging with grace (among other things) that inspired the name for this post.
I don't write a lot about her aging, or what it is like living here and supporting her at this stage of her life, but I think I shall begin. It is, after all, the biggest thing in my life. Haven't said a lot prior to this - aside of posting a few pics and adventures - as it is of the utmost importance to me to respect her privacy, and to respect the privacy of my siblings. But I feel pulled these days to record some of what I feel and notice, as I know it might help others. And I do need to process it. So, I shall, to a degree, share some of that here. Being careful, being respectful, while still being honest. Sharing with grace, I suppose.
A week ago we began a new phase of things: mom has a morning worker come in to give her a sponge bath in bed, dress her for the day, and make her breakfast. The bathroom here, while sized appropriately for her cute little house, is just too awkward to continue using for bathing for an elderly person, even with assistance. Hence the sponge bath in bed.
And my how she has taken to it! Rather that resist or be annoyed at a string of strangers coming in to perform the most personal of tasks, she is accepting it all with grace. And then some. She considers it all a luxury and she truly is luxuriating in it. We call it her morning spa treatment.
What a joy it is to witness her responding like this. I'm not at all surprised, but still I am delighted.
It's also a break for me. Not that there is all that much to do for mom, but as time goes on, and she becomes a little more unsteady on her feet, the attention and care she needs becomes more steady (hmmmm.... unsteady = steady care, interesting). No task in itself is too much, and there is nothing I wouldn't do for her, but the cumulative effect does chip away at one's (mine) energy. And if I get depleted, then I'm not going to be as good with her, and we'd both 'suffer'. I don't mean heavy suffering, but if/when we become strained in the process, it has the potential to change things from aging with grace to enduring. No one wants that.
I knew these things when I moved here 15 months ago, or at least I had a sense. But I suppose no one really knows until you're there.
When the spa days began, I was aware that she needed the extra care, but I wasn't really aware that I needed those breaks yet. But I did. I do. What an incredible difference it has made already. Something as simple as I am blogging now first thing in the morning. Just having some quiet mental space to start my day. Having lived alone for 30+ years it's something I am more than used to. I had adapted, somewhat, but now that I have this time with ease back I can already feel myself responding. I am more present with mom, and I am more present in general.
So I guess I was ready for things to shift. And I guess she was too.
The health care workers love her! I'm not surprised. My mom is such a sweet and interesting person. And she is totally rolling with the punches with each new person comes in. So far, no repeats. And so far, no men (!). We were told to expect a real variety for the first few weeks as we fit into the provider's schedule, and were warned that we might get a few men. She has accepted that possibility just fine, but of course we've put in a request for women ongoing. And I gather the men are in big demand, so I doubt we'll actually see them. But you never know.
We are having fun trying to remember all the ladies names, and a bit about them. Each time we get a new person, we remark that we like them and want them again. So they have been scoring big points with her. And, by extension, me. I admit it has been nice to see how so many different personalities can all perform the same tasks and still make mom feel happy: gentle, bubbly, no-nonsense, take charge, serene, joker, nurturer.... she connects with them all. Will be interesting to see who we get as ongoing caregivers, but at least I know she's going to be fine, no matter what.
Mom is accepting aging with grace. She is accepting care with grace. She accepts me in her home with grace. She is accepting help from a wonderful neighbor with grace. She more than accepts the arrival of any of her flock with grace. She accepts her fleeting memory with grace. She has learned to. What else can she do?
And she has kept her playful spirit! If anything, it has really come out to play!
Evident when we go hunting for Grace.
One day when we were out for a drive, rather than go afar, we started exploring all the little streets that go down to the ocean here. Re-exploring for her, of course, she has lived here so long. But new to me. We were having a grand time when we came to a little road that goes out to a spit of land with about a dozen homes on it. I believe it is a public road, but as the only purpose of it is to go to these homes (there is no parking aside of a couple of visitor spots in the complex), I know that you're really not supposed to drive there. People walk out there all the time, and I used to go there with mom when she was mobile, but only on foot. But I knew she'd like to see it again. So I just drove out there, saying all the while that if we were asked what we were doing there we'd say we were looking for a friend's place. This led to further concocting a story and, out of thin air, I plucked "Grace" as the friend's name. No one asked us what we were doing, of course (I didn't really think they would), but it just added some fun. We, of course, carried looking for Grace as we poked around other streets.... it was a great lot of fun.
And now it's a bit of a theme. When we haven't been out for a drive for awhile, mom will say, "Let's go look for Grace!" Or if I just end up somewhere new, I say, "I wonder if Grace lives around here?"
Then, more recently, when we were talking about the recent changes in her life, and I complimented her on how she is aging with grace, we both stopped, looked at each other, and simultaneously yelled, "Grace!!" And laughed. With recognition that maybe that was the grace we were looking for.
So, we've had lots of fun with the grace theme, and it's actually provided a nice opening to all sorts of dialogue. And I know that grace has also been a theme for my life over the past 15 months.
Grace: we've found her, yet we will continue seeking. It's a journey we are on together.