I had dinner with my mother last Friday night—nothing unusual about that. What was different was where we ate. It wasn’t at her favorite restaurant (Bandito Burrito), or at her house. We ate at her new home—an assisted living retirement community.
As we entered the dining room and were looking for an empty table, there were a few strange looks from the two dozen or so people there. I expected that but when I couldn’t find a table several people began pointing us toward one in the corner where two people were seated. Indeed, one of them, Mrs. Johnson, was motioning for us to come sit with them. I should tell you at this point that my mother suffers from moderate dementia—severe enough that she can no longer live on her own (or remember that she has an assigned table), but not so bad that she can’t function and interact reasonably well with others. We were seated next to the previously mentioned Mrs. Johnson (from Decatur via Ardmore, Tennessee), and Mr. Anderson, a ninety-two year old retired minister who has lived in lots of different places. As dinner progressed and we chatted away, I had one of those moments as I realized that this was what my visits with Mom were going to be like from now on. It wasn’t ever going to be the two of us at her table in her house as it has been since my father passed away in ‘94. I would be sharing her with the people who lived here.
As I was contemplating this new normal and trying to think of what the experience must be like for her, I tried to imagine what it would be like if I was living here and one of my children came to see me. It struck me that our visits would be measured by hours and minutes rather than the days we are used to now. There would be no sense of time enough not to worry about just—measured moments that would quickly slip by and then they’d be gone.
I thought of the upside, all of the reasons we thought this would be the right thing for Mom—the quality care, the opportunity for interaction and friendship, and the ability to retreat to her room when she needed some privacy. Everyone had agreed that this was where she would have the opportunity to live the longest and be the happiest.
As I returned my attention back to our table, Mom was repeating something she had said earlier, Mr. Anderson had as much spaghetti on him as he did in him, and Mrs. Johnson, who had dressed to the nines for dinner, was merrily chirping away. No one was paying any attention to the faux pas we would be tempted to fixate upon, they were way past that. All that mattered at this table was insuring that everyone had a place.
I spoke to Mom yesterday and she told me, “You know, this place isn’t so bad after you get used to it. I think it’s going to be okay.”
I think she’s right.