My mother is now 93-and-a-half years young, and for the past year has been living in an assisted living facility with a caring staff and a strong sense of community. She settled quickly into her new routine and has embraced her new lifestyle.
One of the greatest challenges she has faced in the last decade is the decline of her short term memory. I have watched her frustration evolve from annoyance to anger to a belligerent acceptance. Until recently, when her attitude has matured into a distinctly different approach.
I noticed it a few weeks ago on a recent visit with her. My husband and I will often take our two canine companions along with us to visit my mother when the weather is nice. There is a large veranda at her facility, with comfortable chairs for the residents to sit and enjoy being outside in a protected setting. Since pets are not allowed inside the building, my husband will walk the dogs around the grounds, while I go to my mother’s room and escort her to the veranda. She adores our dogs, as do many of the residents, so our visit becomes quite the event.
During our last visit, my mother introduced us to a resident who was making a fuss over our dogs. Her friend said with a smile, “Oh, honey. Very kind of you to introduce your family, but you know I won’t remember their names.” My mother laughed at her friend’s response and they continued to chat about their lack of memory at this stage in their lives.
As I listened to their banter, I realized they have become proud of both their mental and physical shortcomings. It’s as if they are wearing them like a badge of honor…an embroidered emblem sewn onto the shoulder of their blouses announcing to the world, “Look here, folks! I have lived on this earth for so long that my memory and my body no longer work so good! And you know what? It doesn’t matter a bit because I am still alive and kicking!”
In that moment I realized how important it has been for my mother to be around other people on a daily basis. And not just those who are of her generation. She enjoys the companionship of her caregivers along with her newfound friends. She now understands she is not alone in battling her memory loss. She is not losing her intelligence and dumbing-down. And she has rediscovered her sense of humor. And by doing so, has regained a sense of self-worth.
As I share this journey with my mother at this stage in her life, I am appreciative of all she has taught me. Right from wrong. How to show compassion and have patience. How to be independent and to remain confident in who you are.
And she is still teaching me. How to age with grace and dignity. How to take each challenge as it comes. And most importantly, how vital it is to keep your sense of humor through it all.