Gained - a deeper understanding of aging.
I spent a week living with the oldest of the old. Most Brooke Grove residents in our wing were 80 to 100. They were friendly and those who could communicate were eager to talk with a new person. Not until you spend days with them, and share meals, or hear about their lives, can you really get a glimpse - just a glimpse - of what it must be like to become very old. One beautiful woman in her 90s summed it up eloquently. "Life just stops." I'll call her Glory. When Glory came to live in Brooke Grove she could walk with a walker, and when she fell she became wheel chair bound. Because of her limitations she misses all the family events she once attended. Yes, they visit, and Glory lives in a beautiful facility, and her room was filled with presents, but she can no longer be with her family on the actual holidays. She can only see those who choose to visit. Glory knows she cannot live independently and her family cannot manage her needs. She admitted it hurts and there are nights when she cries. Although life has stopped for her, she always had a smile on her face, she always greeted mom and I warmly, and she always treated her resident "friends" gently and with a shared understanding. And though there is continued hurt from the lost of her precious family holidays, there is no bitterness. Hers was one story. There were others. There can be great sadness in growing older - that I knew - and great loss as well. I hope I can continue to spare mom some of that as she continues to age. I take it a day at a time.
Lost (temporarily I hope) the ability to sleep through the night.
Since mom got sick on November 28, I have been unable to sleep well. I have had exactly one night's full sleep. I really hope that once she is home and things settle down - sleep returns.
Gained a new desire to live healthy.
This month I pretty much sat alot, worried excessively, ate terribly (when I could eat), slept little, and watched with sadness my mother deal with the consequences of not being more active in her senior years. As the daughter who received her mother's genetic "cookie cutter" imprint, I know I am staring at my future if I don't get serious about being more healthy.
Lost the need to participate in the "season"
I literally lost the month of December. Of all the months in the year, this one is the hardest to lose. The self-imposed demands of the holiday season - the tree, the greeting cards, the gift buying, the package wrapping, the entertaining - all with the deadline of Christmas Day ... all are eliminated when you are sitting on December 23 - and your focus is just somewhere else.
Mom comes home today. Hopefully I can get the tree up (with my daughter's help) for her this afternoon. If it wasn't for mom, I would just ignore the whole holiday event - hand out my gifts unwrapped and call it done! But she deserves a Christmas. So we will squeeze in whatever we can. I will be very happy to see January 2011.
Gained a better understanding mom's needs.
I have always struggled with mom's inabilities to hear, to remember, to stay active, to remain engaged in life. I wanted more for her. I looked at this aging process only through my eyes. This past week - I saw it through her eyes and the eyes of others living out their later years. The needs of older senior citizens are different. I gained awareness that what looks like idleness often isn't - thinking is slower, decisions take time, mental stimulation is good but not needed at the same level as when younger. And above all - patience is needed by those around them. Patience is hard when you live with an elderly person day to day, but I watched the "pros" do it for the Brooke Grove residents. I can do better - that much I know.
Gained a new appreciation for being home.
If I never see the inside of my local hospital again, I will be a happy person. So much time spent outside my home has made me very, very appreciative of being home. It is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder.
So on balance, I think I gained more than I lost.
It would be naive to assume that another health crisis, hospitalization, or rehab - is not in my future. For mom at 84 years old, I know that as each day passes, the odds go up that we will travel this path again. Meanwhile we will add healthier habits to both our lives and savor the fact we survived the storm this December.
Today is a day to celebrate. Mom comes home.
Happy Holidays to all.