Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

My father called the phenomenon “Monday Morning Quarterbacking”, aka “If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently.” 

Thing is, I believe you make the best decisions you can with the information you have at the time. And you cannot regret the decisions you have made in the past, but you can learn from them. My mother taught me this valuable lesson. However, as I am able look back on the last ten-plus years without regret, I do admit to wishing I had altered the timeline of certain aspects of my mother’s care.

And the reason I am sharing with you now is the primary mission of this journal. I have learned so much from the people who have already walked the same road I am traveling now, and their advice has been invaluable. And while their situations may have been different, their experiences are hauntingly similar. So if my thoughts and ramblings can help someone else, I feel the need to share them.

Aspect 1: My mother lived a minimum of 150 miles and a maximum of over 1,000 miles from her family until she was 81 years young. She should have moved closer to family a few years earlier. Because by the time she was 78 years young, most of her friends had either passed away, moved away into assisted living or were living in a skilled nursing facility. She no longer had the caring support system she had enjoyed for so many years. Her friends were gone and her family was not close by. She was a people-person who found herself with no one to play with. She was alone.

Aspect 2: My mother did not stop driving until she was 88 years young. She should have stopped well before then. Her reflexes had slowed. Her sense of direction was failing. Her eyesight was not as strong. She was a ticking time bomb careening down the road in a dark-red four-door sedan begging for a tragedy to happen.

Aspect 3: My mother lived independently in her own apartment until she was 92 years young. She should have moved into assisted living before the age of 90. Because it would have been an easier transition for her. Because it would have removed the burden of her taking care of her finances, and preparing her meals, and taking her medications, and keeping her apartment clean. Which would have allowed her to focus on the activities she enjoyed. And give her a 24/7 support system in the bargain.

But I know why I chose my timeline. My mother is a fiercely independent woman. And highly intelligent. And I didn’t have the heart to deny her a lifestyle so integral to the person she is. I chose instead to dance with the devil of my mother living on her own for as long as possible. I thought I was doing her a favor and making her happy. I thought maybe, just maybe, she could stay independent until she drew her last breath. I thought I could keep taking one day at a time, thankful for another one passing without her hurting herself, or hurting someone else.

Thing is, she did get hurt. No, I am not talking about her falling and breaking a hip. Or running a red light and having a car accident, injuring herself or other travelers. But as her dementia kicked in…quietly yet quickly…and she was unable to mentally process what was happening to her, I watched her emotionally shrink before my eyes. As the arthritis in her hips and knees got progressively worse, making walking without assistance an impossible task, I watched her physically shrink before my eyes 

I should have pulled the trigger earlier. I could have made her daily life so much better so much sooner. I wish I would have known then what I know now.

So, my recommendation to you is don’t dance with the devil I did. Take a step back and look at your situation with a fresh perspective. Don’t put off what you know in your heart is the right thing to do simply because you think you are doing your loved one a huge favor. Or because you are afraid of fighting yet another battle in a war you don’t think you will win. 

Don’t wait. Not one more single heartbeat, not one more single hour, not one more single day.

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4 thoughts on “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

  1. I checked off Aspect 1 by moving my mother here to Texas from California when she was 79, a year after my father died. There she was living in a house with scary stairs and no close family members, although her neighbors were real angels in watching out for her. But by moving her I took her away from her friends of many years. And I found she wasn’t going to actively seek out new ones and resisted my attempts at helping her that way, so she actually ended up more isolated. *sigh*

    With Aspect 2, there were some knock-down drag-out battles over driving, that’s for sure. The state had renewed her driver’s license BY THE MAIL (sorry for yelling) with no vision test required when she was 88, and it was good until she was 92. So she thought she was good to go, even though, like your mom, her vision was bad and reflexes worse. Finally got her to sell her car and stop driving at age 89. But then this isolated her even more, although I offered to drive her anywhere she wanted. She just didn’t want to go with me, I guess.

    I failed on Aspect 3. We tried to convince her that she shouldn’t be living alone but it took a fall at home to finally make the decision for her. We knew it would come to that since she was adamant about staying where she was, so we just kind of looked at it fatalistically.

    I think it’s wonderful that you’ve had such a great relationship with your mother in the past. An honest and open one that I envy. I don’t think you should beat yourself up over anything. You did good.

    Sorry for the length of this. I’ll shut up now. 🙂

  2. Never any worries about length of comments…please feel free to yack away anytime! And thank you for your encouraging words. I can honestly say I do not believe I am beating myself up and truly hope my post did not sound as if I was doing so. One thing I have learned from other folks who have traveled this road before is that we share a commonality in wishing we would have done some things differently. Which is one of the reasons I wrote this post, for those folks who are just starting their journey…and for one person in particular, if truth be told! And I thank you so much for sharing your “aspects”. Our situations are/were so very similar in so many ways…from a long distance move to stopping driving to a strong desire to continue to live independently. Your comments are so very helpful, not only to me, but to others as well. Thank you again for sharing.

  3. It’s hard. My dad drove well into his 90’s in a small town with little traffic and he was in excellent shape – but he refused to drive on older brother to places outside his noemal quiet route and he never drove at night.. His older brother stopped driving last year – he’s 101. It just depends – they were all clear headed, and cautious. After retirement they did all move close to each other which turned out to be a blessing – between the 3 brothers, my cousins, and friends we children could keep an “eye” on them and were able to step in later than otherwise. And they were able to stay in their community with church and friends near. That’s the important thing – they must have a connection with community or friends – they must have a “identity/place” in society either by family history or service/job previously. Or they feel “lost” and at loose ends.
    We were lucky. All three of them did see the benefits of moving into a retirement community/home with meals prepared after their wives died. Socializing there did a lot – and their friends could come by and they didn’t have to worry about having the house presentable. They learned to use computers. They had a life – the sheltering part was not hindering and while it wasn’t home, it was OK.
    Now my husband’s dad was the totally opposite – fought us tooth and nail when he couldn’t think well enough to live alone and he kept firing the housekeepers/care givers we hired. Didn’t help my husband’s sisters who didn’t live near, didn’t help, and didn’t see why he needed to be in a safe environment. Horrible times watching him when we knew it wasn’t right. He was angry. He was alone – and he tried to drive everyone away.
    You do the best you can. They do shrink in front of your eyes. But you acted with kindness and respect. Each case is different. Never question what you chose.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing. And you are so right…there is no magic formula that suits every person. The difference between your father and his brothers in comparison to your husband’s father illustrates this so very well. How wonderful your father and brothers were able to stay active and independent for so long, while still embracing the change in lifestyle they made after their wives died. Having family and friends nearby was a great influence, I am sure. Unfortunately, I hear more stories that are in the same vein as your husband’s father. And you are so right when you say you do the best you can and should never question what you choose. That is a thought everyone should keep in foremost in their minds, myself included. Thank you for the reminder.

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