In The End
My Mom Is Pushing 100 — Why Am I Still So Conflicted?
When I tell people that my mother will turn 100 this year, I get two kinds of responses. The first is along these lines:
“Bless her! You’re so lucky to have your mom!”
This sentiment is almost always from people who have never had a really, really, old parent. In order not to be perceived as a horrible human being, I respond, “Oh yes. I’m so lucky.”
The second response goes like this, “Oh my God! You must be exhausted!”
Just this week, my dentist asked, “Do you still have your mom?”
When I told him through packed gauze that I did, he said, “You must be drinking heavily.”
I love my dentist.
I also love my 99-year-old mother. I see her every week, talk to her every day, oversee her finances, and serve as her health proxy. I engaged her home health aides, though she fought me every step of the way. Bette Davis famously said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” But she died when she was only 80. Ninety-nine is an entirely different story.
My poor Mom is struggling. Her body parts are failing. She’s legally blind, extremely hard of hearing and has trouble digesting food. Lately she’s been hearing an imaginary military band every evening, along with a deep baritone voice singing patriotic songs. She knows it’s not real. But the music keeps playing.
Mostly, my mother is amazingly sharp. Every morning she listens to NPR’s news summary, Up First. She devours audio books and chooses contemporary titles. Recently, she’s listened to Trust by Hernan Diaz, a literary puzzle of a novel that considers the human costs of wealth. She also enjoyed Tomorrow, Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin, a novel set in the world of video gaming. Imagine being born in 1924 and wrapping your head around that.
A little perspective: In 1924, Calvin Coolidge was president. A gallon of milk cost 28 cents. St. Petersburg in Russia was renamed Leningrad. The song “Happy Birthday To You” was published. J. Edward Hoover was appointed head of the FBI. Adolph Hitler stood trial for treason for the Beer Hall Putsch, a failed coup, and during his prison time, wrote Mein Kampf.