Help with My Mom

I was hoping you could give me some input regarding my 80 year old mother. My parents lived in southern Florida, in a beautiful retirement community that has so many clubs and interesting things to do, that it's like living in a day camp. You need only be in your home to sleep, is how busy you can be down there, if you're so inclined. My dad died early in the summer of 2006. My dad was the "social" one of their relationship, he took full advantage of the many opportunities that their retirement community offered. My mother seldom left the house, other than when my dad drove her to the shopping areas. She really didn't have any friends, or interests outside the home. 99% of her time is spent watching reruns on TV. She bickered a lot with my dad, and picked on him for the slightest things, they didn't have a wonderful relationship.

Since my dad's death, not much has changed for my mom, ther that she hasn't got somebody to pick on. She still rarely leaves the house, other than to shop and most of her time is still spent watching TV (or rather sleeping in front of the blaring TV). She has no interests or hobbies. I strongly suggested that she adopt a small adult dog. We had three dogs when I was growing up, my mother loved them all. Having a dog would force my mother into walking outside a little bit, and be another living thing in her home. Being a dog owner myself, I know how many people you meet when you're out walking the dog, I think it would really be a catalyst for her. It would be something to care for and love, but she refuses to consider getting a pet.

For some time now, my mom has started drinking. In some families having a daily cocktail might be accepted, but my parents never drank. It's not something social, for my mother. My mom has started driving again (she had given it up at least 20 years ago). That might sound like a wonderful burst of enthusiasm for her, but she's a very nervous driver, who frankly shouldn't be on the road. I worry that she's going to go out, and not be able to find her way back home. There are busses in her community that take the residents to the shopping areas, but she refuses to use them.

Through an agency, I've arranged for somebody to come to my mom's home to take her shopping, and to take her to whatever doctor/dentist appointments she might have. This service sends the same helper every week, and would do anything from clean, to do laundry, to sit and play games or go out to eat, anything at all really, if my mom would only agree to it. My mother has the helper stay the bare minimum of time (4 hours once a week), and sends the helper away. I know my mom is depressed, though she would never admit to it. She won't accept any help and is totally against going to something like a widow's support group, or doing some kind of volunteer work, if only to get out of the house for a few hours, and meet some new people. For the winter months, my mom's sister-in-law relocates to a complex near my mother's. During those 6 months, my mom will go out with my aunt, and live a pretty normal life.

Last year, the first after my dad's death, I thought when my aunt went back north my mom would get lonely enough to go out and join one of the many activities in her community or volunteer someplace. I printed out a whole list of local places that needed volunteers, everything from socializing puppies and kittens at an animal shelter, to holding new born babies at a hospital. Complete with contact names and phone numbers. But she didn't contact any of them. She stayed to herself for half the year, until the fall when my aunt went back down to Florida. Another winter has passed, and again my aunt will be going back to her home in the north. This means my mom will "hunker down" and go back to her shut in existence. When I suggest moving, she says that she'll "walk out into traffic" before she would leave her home. (20 years ago she said the same thing when my dad retired, and he wanted to move down to Florida).

At the moment, my mom is pretty healthy physically, for an 80 year old woman. She has some hardening of the arteries, and some circulation issues, but nothing that prevents her from walking. Though, I know she would never tell me if she was having a problem. I live in New England, and can't go down to Florida more than once or twice a year to check on the situation. My mom refuses to come up north to visit me. I found a woman who would drive her to the airport, sit with her until she got on a plane, and I'd arrange with the airline to have them take my mother (with a wheelchair) to the public area where I would meet her. She need not even be conscious to travel in this way, and yet my mother refuses, preferring to sit in her home and sleep in front of the TV, day in, and day out. My dad left her very comfortable in the financial department, and she could afford to really live a wonderful life. It just seems like such a waste. Any suggestion you might have would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for reading my message.

Patti in Massachusetts, 49

Thank you for taking the time to put all your concerns in writing. Your mother is living out her lifetime patterns of not being social, with the one exception of your aunt. At least for those six months she chooses to interact with someone. When someone losses a spouse, it’s more than just someone passing on.  There is a partnership that no longer exists. Even if they seemed to "pick at each other", your parents enjoyed companionship on some level, and that is very difficult to replace.

You mentioned that your mother is now driving. You may want to have her eyes and ears checked, as well as have her take a safe driving class to bring her up to date on the latest rules and regulations. Also, her saying that she may "walk out into traffic" is not a comment to be taken lightly. Her drinking and her self-imposed isolation need to be brought to the attention of her primary doctor and maybe even a therapist. Her drinking may interfere with her medications, her behavior, and her thought process, plus her negative comments must not be ignored before something very serious occurs.

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