It’s Her Life

I spent several hours at Mom’s house today. I alternate weekends with my SoCal sister. We get Mom’s mail, water her plants, check her phone messages, and just generally make sure all is well while the place is empty.

The sky really was that blue today

Yes, it’s inconvenient (it’s a 90-minute drive), but it’s short-term because she has agreed to sell her house, and this time I believe she will follow through. I’m glad, but also heartbroken. To think of them – them! but it isn’t “them” anymore, is it? It’s just her – not living up there ever again. Well, I’ve held off the tears all day but I guess I can’t forever. Time moves on, and we all get old and die.

I feel conflicted. I want her to move down (“up” and “down” in this post relate to land elevation) by me, for all the logical reasons, and then all of a sudden, like right now, I don’t want her to move at all. I want her to risk it, to inconvenience and vex and terrify us with her dogged determination to stay as long as she possibly can in that house that represents that good part of her life when Dad was still alive, and then the part where as a new widow she reaped the benefit of having cultivated friends and hobbies for the alone-time she knew was coming. For me to yank her away from that – and then add in the heartbreaking, elegiac, mind-numbing beauty of the high desert – I can hardly bear the thought.

Poppies grow wild in her yard

It’s an end. I’d like to think it’s a beginning, too, but who can say? Mom is healthy and vibrant for almost-86, there’s no reason she can’t have a great ten more years. But will she have the courage to start over, to walk away from that place?

It hurts to think of losing it, because for ten years, this town was my home, too. It was largely a difficult time, when I worked harder than any human should have to, and delayed my dreams, and saved everybody.

The memories are bad and good.

As a young single mother, I took my son Danny (now 33) on his paper route some weekend mornings when the snow made it impossible for him to ride his bike. One morning I ran over his foot, but the deep sand saved him and after we got over the shock, we laughed. And then newspapers stopped hiring kids and kids stopped getting up early and riding bikes and getting their first paychecks.

On the other end of the scale, my previous marriage ended there. And Dad died up there! I wouldn’t live there now. Couldn’t. But I miss it.

When Dad and Mom build the house in the ’80s, they preserved the native juniper trees

But I digress. Today I worked my ass off, getting Mom’s house all spiffed-up for Amber to look at next Saturday. Amber might buy it. That would be nice, to know it’s still in the family. Amber is a dear friend of my step-daughter. So we would know the house that Dad and Mom built in the ’80s would be well cared for.

It was so beautiful up there today! I swear, when you live in such a place as the high desert, and especially on a spring day like today, you feel a sense of hope and optimism about rearing kids, raising your own food, having quiet and privacy and clean air and astounding skyscapes…but you have to agree to be away from the grownups, those people with good cars and nice landscaping and HOA rules and recycling. You have to cut yourself off from fancy restaurants and advanced culture and decent shopping.

But you can pretend that you’re living life on your own terms.

This picture hints at the mountains they can see out the back AND the front of the house

I imagine this is what people seek when they move to Idaho or Montana or the Dakotas. It’s like joining a monastery. All magic and no movies.

But again, I digress.

Mom’s coming home to my house tomorrow. I started out being excited, and I still am, but we’ve had a couple of conversations since the hospital said they’d cut her loose, and I realize I’m a bloomin’ amateur. I see that Mom’s looking for ways (already) to cut corners and speed things up; and now I understand it’s not about reveling in the relative luxury of my house as compared to a rehab hospital. It’s about my house as stepping stone to – you guessed it – her house. I think she’s just biding her time until she can go home. It started out being a month, and now she’s only planning to stay for two and a half weeks. We both talk about the need for therapy, and the therapist will have to visit my house, and we should set that up ASAP, but I sense Mom’s beyond that already. And my other sister, the one who hasn’t yet adapted to her new home near Canada, would do almost anything, including promising to take care of Mom, to be able to come south and thaw out for a couple of months.

You get a feeling for the loveliness of her back yard with this short video:

So I rearrange furniture at my house to make Mom comfortable, to encourage her to stay, but like an inadequately compelling acquaintance, I know I don’t have much pull. Because I suspect she’s going home for good, even if she doesn’t yet say it. And the tears and frustration and anger of her children and grandchildren are nothing compared to the incense of creosote and sage calling to her from the high desert.


  1. says

    That was beautiful. I feel like I am on the verge of all that with my parents. My Dad is right there — but my younger mom (almost 80 herself) — is still plugging along great. Such a pretty spot. I could almost smell everything.

  2. says

    Loved this line, Lynne, re the Dakotas. “It’s like joining a monastery. All magic and no movies.” So true. And yes, as our parents age, it’s quite challenging. I thank you for sharing your story (which would make a great memoir, btw) of “home” and family — it gives us clues how to proceed here. My mother, 82, is also very attached to her roots, but a move would be good. I don’t have much advice, I’m afraid. Most of my friends say it’s good if they move before they don’t comprehend the transition. They gain more good years that way. But I haven’t a clue. There is a quote on my facebook page you might find helpful (tolle) and here’s another one I find inspiring: “When the heart grieves over what is lost, the spirit rejoices over what is left.” –Sufi Proverb So best wishes my prairie sister … I’ll be checking back you can be sure! –With admiration, Daisy

  3. says

    I so very much understand your pain and conflict over the next phase or yours and your mother’s lives. I have a very dear friend who is facing the same thing with her parents. I have known these wonderful people my entire life and it is painful for me to watch as they struggle to cross the threshold into the next level of their earthly life and for my friend it is gut-wrenching.
    I am fortunate that my almost 83 year old father is very strong and able to do most everything he’s ever done so I have not had to face many of those challenges yet. I know my time is coming and it will force a different relationship between my brothers, my sister and myself as it happens.
    It is so hard to watch as life changes us and to be so unprepared for it. Certainly we all know, intellectually, that we will face it one day, but until it begins to happen to us personally, it is not imaginable. Our parents were always our strength and safety. Now we must be theirs and I’m not certain that I’m prepared for that. I am learning from all of you that are taking those steps before me.
    Thanks for sharing yourself with us! Blessings of strength and courage to you and yours!

    • says

      Thanks, Ereline. Sometimes I think I’m focusing too much on my own problems but you remind me that we all have to go through this, and until it happens to you, you just can’t know what it feels like, or how to prepare. So if it helps, I’m glad. Best wishes with your own situation.

  4. says

    We’re in our fifth generation of decisions made by, and for, we first and we fifth, and the choices still belong to individual of-age persons in each generation. Respect for choices and trust in the sanctity of the chooser is a lesson learned lifelong. Even when I think I’ve got it down, I lose my grip. One of the extraordinary pieces of this puzzle I’ve stumbled on is it’s brilliantly important to have a sense of personhood, and to appreciate our beloved’s self as well. My dad and brother need to have choices, and I need to let them choose. Even if our sense of self is attached to a life passed on, a homestead, or a belief, we all need to keep self close until we breathe our last. Every person has her own story to live, to tell, and to hope we allow to continue. It is heart-wrenchingly painful, but it is first and forever a beautiful act of love. You are a loving and thoughtful person, Lynne, and I send you extra doses of strength and legions of anguish banishers.

    • says

      Linda, you say it’s important to have a sense of personhood, and to appreciate our beloved’s self as well. Of course, you’re right; the former because without your own strong sense of individuality, you can’t begin to respect anyone else’s, but the latter is the scary call, because you don’t know if you’re right. For example, I go back and forth constantly between wondering if I’m respecting my Mom’s wishes or giving too much credence to her (pointless) worry about being a burden to us. (On that latter point, I once asked her if taking care of her own mother was ever a burden, and she shook her head and said, “Never.”)

      Thank you for those extra doses of strength and anguish banishers, Linda. My whole family will need them.

  5. says

    I have such mixed feelings as I read your post. My life has been different. My mother died at 50, when I was 18. But my husband works as a physician with patients at the end of life. We’ve both talked about not wanting to be a burden to each other (eye of the beholder, I know) or our kids. I had a brush with breast cancer a few years ago that made me quite sure that in the future, I would not make choices that subjected me to the medical care machine. I want to live and die on my own terms. That doesn’t mean I would refuse all treatment but I have learned how to say “no.”

    So I can understand your mother’s wish to live where she wants. Once you leave behind all that is familiar and “yours,” you start losing a sense of who you are. I would guess she knows what’s she’s getting into if she goes back home.

    Some families want to be together and have that kind of closeness and some just don’t. I don’t know about yours. What seems like a good idea can turn sour if your mom start feeling like she gave up too much of “her” life to live in your life. Good luck with your choices and keep me posted.


    • says

      Marilyn, you see it perfectly. On the one hand (one of about eleventy-seven), I know she is lonely. She said the word, and this is in spite of an active social network. For me it would boil down to the alone times in my house, and maybe that is what she feels, too. She loves her family and wants to be around us. On the other hand, she is in a familiar environment now, where Dad lived, etc. Sometimes I feel sure that I should leave her alone, let her procrastinate about leaving Hesperia until “something” happens where it will no longer be a choice (and I won’t be the one feeling guilty about having leaned on her to make one). Other times I feel more confident that she will be happier down by us, for a multitude of reasons.

      For me, as for her, there is risk in either choice. I will keep you posted, and thanks for letting me hear from you.

  6. says

    Oh Lynne, what a heartwrenching post. I can feel your struggles and heart tugs(the pictures are beautiful!) You have lured me there through your words and pictures. Whatever way you look at it, there will be sacrifices. I know you will work it out,keeping your mother’s best interest at heart. I truly hope writing it out and sharing this will help you to process this very delicate topic that those of us with aging parents share, respecting our parent’s independence while ensuring their safety and wellbeing. Wishing you peace and clarity in the process. Blessings, Kathy

    • says

      “Respecting our parent’s independence while ensuring their safety and wellbeing.” Bingo, Kathy. Harder than it looks. Thank you for your kind wishes.

  7. says

    Lynne, you must know, since you’ve lived it, how irresistible is the lure of the desert. I’ve been in my own corner of the high desert for forty years. Every day since our decision to move to Idaho (because that’s where most of the children and grandchildren are) seems like a good one (waiting just on the sale of the house). Everyday it breaks my heart. But I want to see those babies growing up!

    Then — on the daughter side — my own mom is across the continent, in care, with dementia. I want her with me. My Vermont sister wishes the same from her end. What we both have learned is that a change of place is something she would most likely never adapt to. My mom is a bit older than yours and cannot live independently. So we make the trek every other month or so as we can to hang out for a week, swim, shop, knit, visit the gardens she loves with their giant camphor trees.

    We are lucky to have some wisdom and experience to help (unlike my friend’s children who simply want her “close”, never mind what she wants and needs). We can ask, “What will I want — at a similar time, an older stage?” But we are wise enough to know the answer we would give is callow even from our mature years. We are not she.

    (Thanks for your beautiful description. And I’ll be thinking of you and your mom this spring.)

    • says

      Thanks, Linda. The hard part is accepting that it really is her life, and her decision to make. You say, “we are wise enough to know” that our perspective is relatively immature. Oh, man, I so agree! But when I get to be that age, I hope to have planned ahead so that I can make it easier for my son to help me. I will make sure I’m near enough to his home to be able to participate in his life easily and naturally.

      As it stands, if Mom stays in the high desert and needs to go to her doctor, I’ll drive an hour and a half to pick her up, then turn around and go 45 mins to the doctor, then reverse it all. Even if it’s just an eye exam. She can drive locally but not the freeways. I mean, she’s WORTH it!! But it doesn’t make it simpler. Thanks for your comment. Sorry to blab on about my own situation so much – you certainly have your own challenges, but it sounds like you have your priorities straight. Best wishes.

  8. says

    What a beautiful, emotional post. I hope writing it helped you clear your head. Not only will the writing help you but it helps the rest of us as we travel down similar paths.

    It’s so important that the siblings stick together at this time. Sometimes, that’s the hardest part but if keep your mother’s best interest at the forefront everything will be okay.

    Hugs from the southeast. A good cry can be very cathartic. :)

  9. says

    Ah, Lynne, what a moving post. I can really feel your conflict and pain — on the one hand, wishing for time and quiet when your mom can stay with you and you can “baby” her; on the other, wanting ever so much for her to be the active, independent mom you’ve grown up with and come to love. Maybe that’s why they call us the “Sandwich Generation,” although I think that term was coined to show us sandwiched between aging parents and growing children of our own! Anyway, I’d hate for her to sell her house. People need roots, and it takes at least two years after relocating before they feel comfortable calling their new place home. That’s a hard two years when they get to your mom’s age. Just sayin’!

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