27 Jun 2017
Through the fault of shoddy knee surgery, my mother unexpectedly ended up in a wheelchair. Despite several attempts to replace her knee, she became wheelchair bound. I’m sharing this with you here not because it’s a sad story of the hazards of getting older, but rather a tale about making delicious lemonade when life has handed you lemons.
My mother told me years ago that women don’t come into their own until their children are mostly grown; only then can women devote more time to their own life plans. I was glad to hear that because it seemed like I was behind schedule in my mid-40s. That is the type of pearl of wisdom that only comes with age; I now know that younger people just don’t have this perspective.
Admittedly, even before becoming wheelchair bound, my mother was resilient. She’d bounced back from many challenges in her life including a nervous breakdown when I was young, a divorce after 40 years of marriage, and living on minimal income by becoming adept as an investor. Ultimately, her frugal ways enabled her to purchase a coveted condo in a Florida senior community that she loved.
But now, in a wheelchair, would she be able to move back into her cherished condo? Her place could be made handicapped accessible, but would she still be happy there? How would she get around, no longer able to drive? Would she feel isolated or stranded when the snowbirds headed north for the summer?
Together we decided it might be best to have her live back in the NY metro area, near her kids and grandkids. But, as life happens, we each had our own busy lives and my mother felt quite alone and unhappy in her new senior residence. She was outgoing and active and mentally fit, but many of her neighbors were not. For a woman who does the Times’ Sunday puzzle in ink, this was a pretty disappointing situation.
I came to agree with her decision to return to Florida, even if family wasn’t nearby. It was warmer, sunnier and somehow happier for her there – not to mention much more affordable.
In our search for a new home for her, we quickly discovered that senior residence life was a whole other kettle of fish in Florida. Florida seniors – some well into their nineties were happier and more engaged in their lives – than they were in New York. When we entered the place my mother would later call home, it seemed like a Ritz Carlton for seniors. I had a good feeling right from the start – and so did my mother.
It’s been eight years since my mother moved in, wheelchair and all. She’s now 88 and still plays bridge several times a week and continues to study and teach Kabbalah and astrology. She’s even taken up beading and makes beautiful necklaces – liberating an artistic side that surprised even her. She’s happier than she’s ever been in her life, because of her many friends, activities and a sense of community. It would’ve been entirely understandable for her to just wallow in self-pity, but instead she kept moving and her life opened up in way that let her blossom.
In the early days of lifting my mother’s wheelchair in and out of the car, I came to be fully in touch with my aches and pains and the reality that I too am not a kid anymore. But just by observing how my mother has dealt with this adversity I have garnered a pearl of wisdom. Connection, community and a sense of belonging can make all the difference in the world. Getting older has challenges – but new beginnings can bring new happiness as well.
Susan G. Parker, Esq., is the author of several books including: