Helping parents age well, includes helping them until the very end–you’ve heard me say that before. Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Thoughts go to mothers present and those who are gone. We make memories and we remember.
We–or at least I–have treasured memories of gestures very near the end of both of my parents’ lives. I want to share them today, hoping they continue to lift the spirits of very sick aging parents–especially mothers and grandmothers at this time in May.
These gestures are not things per se, but they are gifts. They involve pleasures for the senses–smell, vision, and hearing.
My brother and I both remember a trip through Southern California when we were young and hearing Mother tell us an orange grove was coming up. We couldn’t see any orange grove and were puzzled. You see, Mother had an acute sense of smell and could smell the blossoms well before the grove became visible. We were amazed.
Not surprisingly Mother loved perfume, bath powder, the fragrance of flowers… In one of the episodes many older parents experience that cause their children to know life is getting fragile, mother, at 86, was at home in bed and very weak. I wanted to do something to lift her spirits.
With no time to go out and buy something, I remembered I had a wonderfully-scented little hand lotion that came from the Williamsburg Inn. I’d saved it, used it sparingly and brought it to her bedside, unscrewing the top. She could smell the aroma as I unscrewed the top. Before I got it near her nose, she said it smelled lovely, then held the bottle near her nose. A little gesture, bringing pleasure at a difficult point in her journey. She made it through the first of several recoveries–most of us have experienced them–until we don’t.
The “we don’t” experience came several years later, an emergency flight out west on a plane that took off and arrived late. I no doubt tested the speed limits racing to hospital. Yet in my haste to leave NY, I kept my wits about me long enough to carefully wrap a super tiny orchid plant that had 3 teensy blooms; I put it in plastic cup to take on the plane and show her.
Mother seemed alert and comfortable as she looked at, gently held, and commented about now special it was to see this tiny plant in bloom. She went into a coma shortly thereafter. Sad, yes; but she had a few moments of real pleasure that weren’t just related to my being there.
They say hearing is the last to go. While my brother was living with Dad who was in his 90′s, we also had male caregivers. I had been in Portland with Dad 10 days before his kidney failure seemed to rapidly fail. Another flight west. Returning I heard dreary, dirge-like music coming from the radio next to his bed.
His favorite song was “Mack the Knife,” from the ’50s. Thankfully Portland has a lot of funky shops on 23rd and sure enough, in a store with old records etc. I found “Mack the Knife” and brought it back to play–over and over. In retrospect–since Dad died that night–I’m wondering if that music was a little over-the-top based on the situation. But it was his favorite song, and at the time I was happy that he could hear it at the end of his life.
I rarely write about personal experiences with my parents. And I’ll be the first to admit these gestures may not have lifted their spirits or helped them forget the immediate situation for a time and experience something they liked. But I thought they did. And I share them in an effort to help parents age as well as possible, until the very end.