Observations: The last place

Published on: May 26, 2011

My mom in her new home.  Mitch Traphagen Photo

My mom in her new home. Mitch Traphagen Photo


“I’m OK,” she said.

Those two words echoed in my head as I drove down a freeway in the upper Midwest. My Mom had just moved into an assisted living facility. I spent a few days with her, and then it came time to make my way back home. I stopped by on my way out of town and asked her, “Are you happy here?” and “Are you OK?” I told her I loved her, walked down the hallway and got into my car. Ironically, the day was the 33rd anniversary of my Dad’s death. In all those years, despite offers, she never found anyone who could replace him. My brother visits her almost every day and my sisters live within a few hours, yet she is alone.

The last night I was there, we were sitting in her new apartment talking when she said, “This is going to be the last place I live in.” That caused me to pause, to say the least. I had thought about that, but I wasn’t aware that she was thinking about it, too. Obviously she would have thought about it—my Mom is not an idiot, after all. I’m just not comfortable with that concept. I don’t want anything to be the last of anything, especially for her and all of the other people I love.

I feel as though I’m in some weird time warp, as if one morning I woke up in a different time. Suddenly I was middle-aged and my Mom had gotten old. How could that possibly have happened so quickly?  Have I merely been sleeping through my life expecting everything to stay the same forever?  I think I may have been—and now I realize how horribly mistaken I was.

Does anyone’s life turn out the way they expect it to?  I spent some time driving around my old hometown, revisiting the places that had meaning to me while growing up. I can’t remember what I expected out of life, but it wasn’t this. That’s not a complaint, by the way, it’s just an observation.

I can’t remember some of the people who graduated from high school with me, but I haven’t forgotten my first loves and the beginning of some lifelong friendships. I can remember the fears and uncertainties of youth. I can remember some of its dreams. I thought I would be at X, but the road turned into Y and I just kept going. In the end, what choice was there?  It seems that the true and singular choice in life is to fight like hell or go with the flow. Going with the flow is the easiest and, no doubt, the most common choice. I’m beginning to wish I had fought more.

This could be the last place I live in. Out there could be a bus, or a train, or a heart attack with my name on it. It could be today, tomorrow, or 30 years from now. It’s probably best that we don’t know—which is why I was so uncomfortable with what my Mom said. Her father, my grandfather, was the very definition of a gentleman. One day, he walked out into his pasture to a pond he built himself and never came back. He must have known the stroke was imminent and chose to complete his life on his terms.

My sister and sister-in-law did an amazing job of moving Mom in and making her new apartment into a home. It’s a nice place with nice people, and I think she’ll like it there, but I still wish she wasn’t there. I wish I had seen her waving goodbye from the window of her little house just down the road. Before I left, I looked around her old house and saw a pair of blue mom-shoes in the kitchen, as though she had kicked them off just that day. It bothered me, and I asked her if she wanted me to bring them to her new apartment. She didn’t; she only used them for yard work and there’s no more yard work to do. Now they haunt me in the kitchen and I wonder if they’ll stay there just like that forever.

I want to see the syndrome that is affecting my Mom disappear. I want to tell her not be afraid—to go, to see, to live, and to drop the last penny she owns with the last breath she takes. But that’s not for everyone, and it’s not possible for her.

I don’t have the magic wand I so desperately wish I had. But she’s OK. She’s in a good place, and it’s her place. Even if it is the last place she’ll live in.

I sat in my car for a few moments and said a silent prayer for my Mom. In doing so I was filled with an inexplicable sense of confidence, somehow it seemed that everything would be OK. I started the engine and pulled out of the parking lot. I glanced over towards her apartment and saw her on her deck, waving goodbye.

Yes, somehow everything will be OK.