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No mom, I’m not sending you to camp.

But I might as well be, for all the hoopla it takes to place an elderly parent in assisted living. I’ve filled out enough forms about her culinary likes and dislikes, preferred activities, and her background to make me consider–really consider–how roles have switched. Suddenly there are so many details going into her care, and I’m responsible. She’s, of course, watching closely over my shoulder: “Don’t forget to tell them fried chicken is my favorite food.” “What do you think, Sue, should we put name tags in my clothes? I hear that things get lost in the laundry.”

This did not start out as an easy, nor amusing, process at all. I’m an only child, though I wasn’t always. I currently live over 500 miles from my mother in Baltimore. As luck would have it, I managed to break my wrist here in my seaside Maine retreat just as my mother was slipping from her able-bodied self into a fragile woman. She had 24/7 care that promised to dry out all her savings within the year. She’d also had a few trips to the hospital, which were filled with hysteria (her) and mismanagement (hospital administrators).

Although I’m an only child, my mother is actually one of four surviving siblings, of which she is the oldest. She has more nieces and nephews than I could list on those endless forms. Yet no one in her family contacted me (except for one cousin by marriage), if for no other reason than to offer a sounding board for next steps.

Yet the help I got was amazing. Her grandson Justin became her financial agent, chief light bulb changer, advocate, and all-around miracle worker. His mother Charlene took care of her mother-in-law with all the majesty and generosity imaginable. She’s gone to the store for my mother every week, escorted her on one of those aborted trips to the hospital, and just became a selfless soul.

With my arm in a cast, I did what I could from Maine. Perhaps my most major accomplishment was convincing her that she had to go into assisted living. She’s living where she has since 1975, and expected to die there. She also still smokes 6 cigarettes a day, and hated the idea of being somewhere managed and restrictive. I talked to her, explained that she would be stuck on the top floor of her townhouse for the rest of her days, since she wasn’t getting the PT–nor the energy–to take the steps any longer. Finally, I just cried to her. I sobbed, telling her that I couldn’t bear her living like a hermit with a medley of caregivers that came in shifts. The next day she called me: “OK, since it upsets you so much, I’ll do it.”

Two days after my cast came off, I flew down to Baltimore, rushing to visit three care facilities in short order. I’d done lots of groundwork and had a good idea of the terrain. They were all nice places: clean, lots of activities, kind people. This was nothing like the nursing home I remembered from when my great-grandfather reached his final days. Making a decision wasn’t hard: one place stood out from the rest for it’s size, allowing her to smoke outside in a specific area under shelter, and the general ambiance.

Of course, both Justin and Charlene backed me up every step of the way. We’re a triad, each has specific roles. I’ve also brought in outside help to coordinate the move and the medical procedures. I figure these women bill at roughly the same rate that I do with Word Sharpener, and I have more than enough work to keep me busy 7 days a week. I’d rather pay them to do what they do well and use my time to do what won’t frustrate me.

I’m hoping that my mother will like the other residents, will eat better than she’s been doing at home, get involved with the activities. I’m flying back to Baltimore in a short bit to ensure that she gets settled in. I’ll probably have lunch with her there the first day. But then I’ll have to leave. I wonder if I will cry?

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