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Independence: An Aging Mother's Plea

Short story By: Bill Rayburn
Literary fiction


An elderly woman swims against the inevitable tide of her children's desire to put her in a home. (Approx. 800 words)


Submitted:Apr 2, 2012    Reads: 16    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


Independence

"Mom, what happens if you fall?"

"I've got the medic alert bracelet. I just push the button."

"What if you need immediate help?"

I sighed heavily and took a sip of my coffee.

My kitchen was huge, much too big for a single old widow like me to need or use. But I spent an inordinate amount of time in here, with just the stove light on. I'd bought comfortable chairs to surround the oak table, and I enjoyed the view out the window into my well-tended (not by me) front yard.

I loved the silence, punctuated only by the metronomic ticking of the clock above the entryway, and the occasional cycling on and off of the refrigerator compressor. There was a peaceful rhythm to the mechanical sounds, not unlike the more natural sounds that washed over me when I sat in the garden.

The rest of the house was equally as comfortable, if not too spacious for my solitary life these days, since Andrew died last year. I enjoyed every room of this old house, actually. Lived in it through one child and one husband. The marriage was fifty years long, and the son is fifty years old. And seated across from me.

I laughed and set my cup down. "Andy, at my age, immediate help will always be a priority. Just not for me."

"But you'd be less alone in Prairie Ridge Center. It's like a hotel, almost. Out by the lake, lots of walking area."

I snorted. "Almost."

"I have a question for you, Andy." He nodded and sipped from his still steaming mug of coffee.

"Your three closest friends are your age or older, right? And they have been your friend for many, many years. Right?"

"Yes."

"It is accurate to say, then, that you haven't made any significant friends since your twenties."

Andy thought about that. Then nodded.

"What makes you think your mother, all 84 years of her, is going to move into a hotel," she carved air quotes around the word with two fingers from each hand, "and suddenly make friends?"

He stammered, "But wouldn't you want to be around more people?"

"I get out now. I see other people. I still drive. I go to the library, the grocery store. Madelyn and I go to the movies once in a while. I took that drive to the coast last month with Mad, remember?"

He waved his hand. "Oh, and Pam and I are not real excited about you continuing to drive, either."

"What!?"

He nodded firmly. "Your license expires next month; you'll probably have to take a written and driving test."

"So? I'll burn that bridge when I come to it."

"You mean 'cross', mom."

"I mean exactly what I said, Andrew!"

"You know you shouldn't be on the road, mom. It's not as much you, but your reaction time to other people's bad driving."

"I haven't been in an accident in a long while. Not for almost 20 years."

"You know what I mean."

"Actually, I don't."

I was ready to bite the bullet that lay on the oak table between us, but was he?

He remained silent.

"Andy, what makes you think that as a person gets older, it becomes easier to give up independence?"

"But I didn't say that."

"You didn't have to. Take away my driving, living on my own. Jesus Christ, have you an ounce of empathy? Haven't you even thought about when you grow older, and what you would want?"

"I would want what's best for my children."

And the Genie was out of the bottle.

"So this is about you, then."

"I worry all the time about you, mom."

"And stripping me of my mobility, and my own house will make YOU feel better, ease YOUR concerns. How nice for you."

He was silent.

"Selfish, Andy. You should be ashamed of yourself."

"I'm not ashamed about loving my mom."

"Good. When your mom loses her mind, which I clearly have not, yet. Then maybe you can wade this far into her life and muck it up. But not until then, understand?"

"Ok."

As I closed the door behind him, I felt guilty for my harsh, direct dialogue with my only son. His concern for me, which in my heart of hearts I know to be genuine, was misplaced. If he occasionally frets about whether I'm sprawled at the bottom of the stairs with 3 broken hips, or overturned in a gully still belted into the Cadillac, I can live with that. I can't live with suddenly inverting my life so he can sleep better.

Selfish? Maybe. But it IS my life. Until someone tells me otherwise. I've more than earned the right to determine my own fate as much, and as long, as is humanly possible.





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