Are you sometimes frustrated by the choices your elder parents make? If so, I want to tell you a story. I call it the “flowers story.”
I told it the other day to a friend of mine who had visited her 90 y/o mom during the holidays and been dismayed at the state of her hair.
“I asked her if I could take her to the beauty salon so her hair would be pretty in time for Christmas and she told me that she thought it was just fine.”
“Was it matted? Did it smell?” I asked my friend.
“No. It just didn’t look the way I know Mom likes her hair.”
I then proceeded to tell her the “flowers story.” It goes like this: A little over five years ago, when Mom first moved into assisted living, I noticed that she kept flowers and pot plants way past their prime.
Back then, Mom and I would engage in a spirited debate about whether the plant in question was dying or, in fact, already dead.
“Mom, let’s throw this away” I’d say, pointing to the poinsettia that she was still holding onto in April, even though it had zero leaves on it and hadn’t been watered since February.
“No,” Mom would reply. “She’s still alive.”
“Mother,” I’d retort, using the name I say when I get exasperated with her. “This plant is dead. Don’t you think it’s depressing to keep it? I’ll buy you a new one.”
“I don’t need a new plant. I have this one,” Mom would explain.
Eventually, I came to realize that these debates, while straightforward and obvious to me, made Mom agitated.
So, I stopped having them.
Instead, I’d just sneak into Mom’s room when I knew she was at some activity and just cull out all the dead flowers and plants, knowing that she’d never miss them.
But then I realized the point wasn’t whether Mom missed the plants or not.
The point was (and is) that I wasn’t respecting my mother’s choices.
You see, there are some choices that Mom can no longer make. So, I work with her care team, to make them for her.
But there are a lot of choices she still can make. And, as the years go by and I get more and more involved with Mom’s care, I am passionately determined to make sure that she gets to make them.
Not because I agree with them.
Not because they are consistent with the way she’s always made those choices.
Not even because she is my mom.
Rather, my determination to let Mom make the choices she can mame stems from the simple truth that she is a human being.
Because isn’t that what we humans want almost more than anything? To make our own choices.
Like my friend, I visited my mom over the holidays.
When I walked into her unit in assisted living, sure enough there was a well on its way to dying glass of cut flowers.
“Mom,” I asked, “Do you want me to throw these flowers away? Or maybe freshen up their water?”
“No, my sweet boy.” Mom said. “They’re perfectly fine as they are. Now, let’s go to lunch.”
So, the flowers stayed and Mom and I went to lunch.
Because that is what she wanted.
The Practice of Being Alive is a collection of stories about getting through this thing called life.