This weekend my sister Shirley and I took Mum to Fundy National Park for an overnight visit. This may sound like a simple exercise but my Mum’s mobility is severely impaired: she walks with a walker for short distances only; a prolonged outing usually means taking along a wheelchair.
Mum shakes: not just the small tremors of old age but her legs shake and wobble making even walking with the walker a supreme effort. Getting Mum in and out of Bessie the Bus was a feat of ingenuity and strength even with both Shirley and I participating.
My mother is a study in growing old gracefully. She has a wonderful sense of humour and has the ability to laugh at herself when the indignities of old age present themselves. Each mounting of the steps into Bessie resulted all three of us bursting into gales of laughter at the wobbling and bobbing that inevitably resulted.
Mum and Shirley tell the story of the time they were trying to get Mum into the front seat of Shirley’s car. Mum was standing outside the car with her back to the passenger seat, bobbing and weaving as her bottom hovered over the seat trying to land. Finally she collapsed into the seat prompting a passerby to comment, “It ain’t pretty but it works.” This cracked Mum and Shirley up. We heard this story several times on our brief adventure until one of us would break out laughing and say “it ain’t pretty but it works” before we heard the whole story again.
My mother also lives with dementia, another indignity of old age. She is only mildly impaired cognitively though. Mostly she just gets confused sometimes. As we drove to Alma, she asked me who I thought would win the U.S. election this year and was quick to voice her opinions. She still reads the newspaper every day. And she is very aware of her own struggle to communicate. She struggles to find the words to get her thoughts out to others. So we play a kind of Charades: is it this? Is it that? Or we say “sounds like” as we pull an ear. This again results in great laughter and sometimes when the struggle ends, the word will come.
Mum apologizes for her slowness in putting thoughts together, her inability to find the right word. We tell her not to apologize, that it doesn’t matter to us. We tell her that we can’t begin to imagine the frustration that she lives with. We tell her that we marvel that she has kept her good nature and sense of humour as old age chips away at her. We tell her that she is teaching us to laugh at ourselves, to grow old gracefully. And whether Mum believes it or not, she is teaching us to live the best life we can whatever our limitations.
This trip we ate a lobster dinner at The Tides, Mum’s favourite thing to do. We returned there for lobster rolls the next day for lunch; We drove along the coast to Cape Enrage. We stopped in Sussex to buy an ice cream cone on the drive home. On Sunday morning, all three of us piled into the same bed for a cuddle.
Last year, Shirley took Mum to Fundy National Park by herself. Last year, Mum still managed to struggle up the stairs to their room. This year, it took two of us to help Mum get around. None of us know what next year will look like. But the annual trip to Fundy National Park is still penciled in our June 2009 daytimers.