My mother has been in her new home for just over a year. She was among the first residents of a brand new assisted living facility, just a stone’s throw from the “homestead” where she raised her children. Her sister, my aunt, lives there too. Shortly after arriving, my mother’s arthritic knees gave out and she now requires help to move into and out of bed, to reach the clothing in her closet and bureau, and to move from seat to seat. We (my brothers and I) scrambled and got her a “scooter” which she didn’t like but learned to rely on. She didn’t want a wheelchair—I think that she couldn’t imagine herself confined to a wheelchair. Somehow a scooter was OK, a wheelchair was not. At any rate, after almost a year of living on a scooter, it seemed that an electric wheelchair would make it easier for her to manipulate within her apartment and to pull directly up to and under tables, desks, etc.
Easier said than done. Aside from the expense, which is significant, the idea that an 89 year old woman can easily adjust to a “joystick” steering device is a lot to ask. After all, she just spent months becoming accustomed to a bicycle type steering device, to say nothing of the bigger adjustment to not standing and not walking – ever again.
She did it! She did it while complaining a bit. She did it while being angry that she has to be in a seat ALL the time. She did it even though she doesn’t think of herself as confined to a wheelchair. She did it even though she doesn’t want to. She wants to stand up and walk. She wants to have all the devices and machines and the people who help her out of her apartment. She wants to go home—but she knows that she can’t and so she does it! She does what needs to be done.
I remember a book I used to read to my children called “Hazel’s Amazing Mother.” It was about all the incredible things that Hazel’s mother did, just because they needed to be done. Some of the things Hazel understood, some she did not. But Hazel’s Mother just kept doing what needed to be done. Eventually Hazel realized just as I continue to realize how amazing my mother is.
I can remember watching my children learn to stand and then take those first few tentative steps. I remember the look of amazement and accomplishment on their faces. Once they were up and running, there was no stopping them. Now I watch with equal awe as my mother takes her last steps, as she struggles to come to grips with the fact that she is now confined to a wheelchair. She has to learn what she can reach and what she cannot. How does one learn, at 89, how to open the refrigerator when a wheelchair is in the way? Once the door is open, how do you reach the milk carton with arthritic hands, how do you set it on the counter and then how do you reach the glass in the cabinet over the sink? How do you learn to push a button and wait for someone to come help you into the bathroom or get ready for bed?
You must be brave. You must be humble. You must be determined and watching it all is amazing!