On moving day for elderly mom, a moving reminder of what matters in life

Older adults don’t talk much about accomplishments during their working lives. Instead, they talk about the value of family.

Some years ago, I traveled to Florida to help my mother move into an independent living facility. It took four days for my daughter and I to unpack all the boxes, find a place for everything and get her settled. Moving day was tough for my then 90-year-old mom. She felt disoriented and in a fog. I whisked her off to her new place when the moving men arrived so she could hang out with her best friend, who had moved to the residence two weeks earlier. I could see she was having a tough time.

When I left, all of her pictures were up on the wall, and everything looked fresh and in order. She was pleased. After a good night’s sleep, she felt like herself again.

My daughter and I got to eat breakfast and dinner with the residents. I marveled at the age of some of the diners. One of the staff told me that there were five residents over 100 years of age — one was 105! I would say that the majority of residents were in their late 80s and early 90s.

My mother ate her meals with an appetite I hadn’t seen in a long time. Living alone in her previous apartment, unable to drive, having difficulty with shopping, cooking and cleaning, she was eating a lot of canned soup and losing weight. I could see she was going to enjoy eating her meals with her good friend, her sister-in-law and some old friends who had also moved into the residence.

I was very impressed with how friendly and helpful the residents were to each other. One of my mother’s old friends greeted my mother on move-in day: “Welcome to your new home! We’ll take care of you.”

If we’re lucky, we may make it to 90 years old with all our brain cells intact and in reasonable health. Indeed, the fastest-growing age group in the United States is 85-year-olds and up. I don’t think many of my mother’s peers thought they would make it to such an advanced age. Many of their parents died much younger.

Growing old does have its downside, too. Shirley, 94, my mother’s good friend, had experienced all her old friends passing away. One of my mother’s best friends, age 93, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. While I was helping my mother move, she found out that another close friend, 89, was diagnosed with colon cancer. My mother was shaken. My father, when he was diagnosed with lung cancer at 87, noted wryly: “At my age, I am a sitting duck for something like this.”

When I talk to these older adults, I hear one theme: the importance and value of family. They don’t talk much about their accomplishments during their working lives. They share stories about their children, grandchildren and, yes, if they’re fortunate, great-grandchildren. Their apartments are filled with pictures of their loved ones. They live for family visits, delighting in the affection they feel for their relatives. They soak up whatever love and attention they receive. They are sponges for care and kindness.

These flowers, with fragile stalks and delicate blossoms, stay bright and colorful, watered by love.

These wise elders reminded me of what’s really important in our lives: basking in the glow of the love that we give and receive from our family and friends.

Don’t ever forget it.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at Optum Care Washington, formerly The Everett Clinic.

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