Choosing to Age in Community: 3 — Tom Springs His Mom From a Nursing Home

Tom Springs His Mom From a Nursing Home

Tom with some young friends
Tom with some young friends

In 1976, Tom learned that his mother, age 90, had been hospitalized. So he drove to California.

Tom–When I visited her in the hospital, I couldn’t find anything wrong with her, except that she was afraid to get up and try to walk. She also seemed to be hallucinating. I began to get the impression that she was drugged. Not only her, but a lot of the other patients, as a means of being able to handle them.

Eventually, Tom persuaded the nursing home to cut down on his mother’s medications, and he helped her to walk down the halls with a walker. “And I began to get the idea that I was going to take her home.”

Robert–Where did your drive come from to take her home? A lot of people would think it’s her time to go and would wonder, why bring a 90-year-old woman back home again?

Tom–I don’t know. She wanted to go home. And I didn’t see any reason why she shouldn’t go home. Far as I was concerned, I’d rather have her at home, rather than be at a nursing home, and go back and forth all the time. Even though I knew that it would be a lot more work for me.

I suppose it was connected to my feeling that she’d always done things for me at times, during my life, and encouraged me to go my way and make the most of everything as I saw it. And this was [something] I could do for her. To have her home and return the favor.

Perhaps some of Tom’s resistance to having his mother end her days in a nursing home came from his grandmother’s experiences in one. Tom had spent much of his growing-up time living with his grandmother. After the war, she had gone to stay with one of Tom’s uncles. The uncle, however, re-married, and the new wife didn’t get along too well with her mother-in-law. So Tom’s grandmother ended up in a nursing home.

Robert–How did she do in the nursing home?

Tom–Not well at all. She didn’t live but about a couple of months afterwards. My grandmother was used to having control of her life, and she’d lived that way life all her life. I can just imagine what it must have been like for her in a nursing home. They’d tie her down-or try to. And she’d get un-tied, and get out, and fall again. Eventually she just died.

Robert–Maybe she was trying to get out of the nursing home.

Tom–Probably was.

Robert–So when she was put in the nursing home, it wasn’t due to physical incapacity.

Tom–It was due to not being able to get along with her daughter-in-law.

Robert–And she had no other options or places to go at the time.

Tom–That’s right.

Robert–So after you got your mother out of the nursing home, how long did you stay with her?

Tom–Almost seven years. She would have been 97 years old a month after she died.

Robert–What did you learn from caring for her during the last years of her life?

Tom–The main thing I learned about my mother was what a wonderful woman she was. She lived a life of service without knowing it. Without trying to be that. She just was that. That was her. And she didn’t think that there was anything unusual about it. But even after I went to stay with her, it was obvious that people who knew her knew that if she could do anything for them, all they had to do was ask her, and she would do it.

Robert–What did you learn about other people’s attitudes toward aging during the time that you cared for her?

Tom–During the latter portion of it, she couldn’t get around as easily as before. Her sight wasn’t as good. Her hearing wasn’t as good. As it became more difficult for people to communicate with her, they just weren’t willing to come. Apparently people didn’t see the value. It would have been of great value for them just to come. Stay 5 minutes, 10 minutes. A few did; but not many.

[Then there was] the attitude of her doctor. He expressed to me that, “You know, she’s over ninety. What do you expect?” And I said, “Well, I expect her to be treated as well as whatever age she’s ever been, regardless of whether she’s ninety or a hundred or whatever.”

Robert–So he was pretty much writing her off?

Tom–Oh, yeah. In fact, his attitude was such that I said, “Well, I’m sorry, but I’m going to get her another doctor.”