Posts Tagged ‘aging parents’

After just a few days in the hospital, my mother had been doing a lot of thinking and planning.  She had already been inspired by the socializing on her garden tour days to imagine that someday she might live in the local assisted living center, Golden Sands.  Because of her crippling shyness, she had always found it hard to reach out and make friends.  In all my years I had never known her to have any but situational friends….workmates, and one neighbour in retirement with whom she’d lost touch when the neighbour moved away.

Even the social life inside the hospital made her feel, she said, that she did not want to go back to her life of solitude.  So Allan and I went up to have a look at Golden Sands for her.  We immediately took to the director, Linda, who showed us a room overlooking the courtyard garden, and said that we could create a garden for my mother outside of her window.

a room (center windows) overlooking a courtyard

The courtyard had four quadrants of boring lawn, an oval walking path, a center lawn/swale for drainage, and was completely enclosed by the building:  thus, no deer!

courtyard fountain

Linda pointed to the window that could be mom’s little studio apartment, with its own bathroom, bedsitting room, and tiny kitchenette with microwave and mini-refrigerator….and garden view.

Linda in the future garden

She showed us the studio and its view of the potential garden.  (The pillars are outside the dining room where residents can choose to take their meals.)

the room and the view

Below, another view of the possible garden from “my mom’s room” (as we thought it might be), and a view of the courtyard

two courtyard views

We went back to the hospital that evening with my computer to show my mom the photos we had taken…only to find she had already made her decision.  She had called Linda, met with her, and signed the papers.  She wanted to go straight from hospital to her new apartment, partly to avoid the wrench of going home and partly on health advice from her doctor, so we were charged with a quick move of a bed, dresser, and essentials into the empty room.

new home

She decided to sell her house rather than rent it. The photos we took while we sorted out all her stuff for an estate sale give some idea of the enormity of moving a person from a two bedroom home with sunporch and garden shed and storage room into a studio apartment.  She had not gotten rid of much over the course of her life, and we found (as we’ve heard is often true in these situations) cases of expired food, old home-canned beans that she had moved to her Long Beach home in 1999, old books and records and clothing, all of which had to be sorted, discarded, donated, or sold.

sorting out for the sale

Golden Sands allowed her to have her big plant stand in a nook of the public hallway.  Other than that, she amazed me by being right about the amount of stuff she could fit into that studio apartment.  I was sure there would not be room for two dressers, a table, a desk, the bed, three chairs for visitors and her recliner…but indeed, we kept bringing and she kept arranging with the help of the staff, and it worked.

the essential plant stand and Gram’s china cabinet

The plant stand with African violets passed down from my grandmother did go to Golden Sands even though there was no way it could fit in mom’s new room.  To our house went my grandmother’s china cabinet and its dishes, always intended to pass to me.  We had to tear out some bookshelves to make it fit, but so it did.

While sorting through papers, we came across so much from my mom’s life:  her youth, her years with my father, their retirement together, and her years in WWII in the Marine Corps.  She had always said the Marine Corps years were her happiest.

Virginia (Ginger) Johnston, champion sharpshooter, left and front left

Mom’s Marine Corps days

While I saved all such memorabilia for mom to share with new friends, the estate sale required much letting go of things, including some of mine that I had stored there.  Would I have kept more had I known that a year later Allan and I would move to a bigger house?  Possibly not, because I was afraid the hoarding tendencies might be inherited.

letting go….

We let go of paintings….and of dolls (who went to a doll collector who will love and restore them), the little desk my dad made for me (which I definitely would have kept had I the room), and even a dress I wore as a punk rocker, which I am happy to say went to a new generation rocker girl.  My mother did not want to keep the dark brown painting of the house she grew up in.  My gram divorced, back when it was a scandal, and did not have custody of her two children.  She saw them only on weekends.  My mother and uncle grew up in that gloomy looking house with their father and aunt, and mom did not have happy memories of that place.

As we had the weekend estate sale in mid September after two weeks of steady sorting, the garden still looked so beautiful that estate sale customers took impromptu tours of it.

September: lilies by sunporch, dahlias, the garden in bloom

I had made a photo album for mom as a Golden Sands housewarming gift with every photo I had of her garden through the years.  Her initial social experience had been discouraging, as she had been seated at a dinner table with residents who suffered dementia and could not carry on much of a conversation, but Linda had that sorted with a day and put mom with a group of sharp-witted and funny women.  For the first time in years, she had friends to share a garden photo album with, peers with whom to exchange life stories, and a roster of daily events that would keep anyone busy.

Golden Sands schedule

It seemed to me that year, and still does, that she did not look back with much regret.  I think I was having a harder time letting go of the idea of her garden than she was.  The development of a new garden right outside her window helped, as Allan and I removed the thin sod and planted many lilies and spring bulbs and divisions of plants from mom’s own garden.  We moved her two favourite rose bushes….two Joseph’s Coat climbers and the red velvety and the copper-sheened rose.  After we finished planting the quadrant outside her window, we also did the one across the path, to restore balance.

December 3rd, gardening up the second quadrant

For one year, my mom had an extraordinarily good time.

Halloween 2009

She wore her Marine Corps cap for Halloween, and had laughs with her friends and activity director Pam Fox.  Best of all, she made a true best friend, Wanda.

Mom at a party and with her best friend Wanda

In August 2010, she was proud to tell us that she had taken a ride on a motorcycle.

a ride around Golden Sands

Pam and Linda and the nurses and staff all thought mom would have ten happy years there.

Perhaps the best words of hope from this story are that memories of gardens live on in photos, and that there is hope even the shyest and loneliest person can emerge from her shell and find friends.

mom’s garden, 8 Sept 2009

mom’s garden, 8 September 2009

Mom’s Golden Sands garden in July 2010

P.S.  We continued to feed mom’s feral cats with the help of our friend Stacey until the house sold over a year later, and the new owner promised to take over the feeding.

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