I like to think I know Mom better than most anyone because of the amount of time I have spent with her over the years. Despite this she still manages to surprise me on occasion. Most recently she found out about a very impactful secret and her reaction caught me off guard.
Often I don’t share certain pieces of information with her until the eleventh hour. For one, she will either forget whatever it is I told her. Or she will obsess about the details of it, asking me the same questions over and over and over and over again.
“What time is that going to be at?”
“Is Princess going with us? I don’t want her to be all alone.”
“What are we doing?”
“And so what time are we leaving?”
Instead of setting myself up for an inevitably frustrating scenario I try to choose a more opportune moment to fill her in on plans. Preferably this will be the week of, or day before, an activity or errand or change to our routine.
For awhile now I’ve had my heart set on moving to Oregon. I have lived in California for the entirety of my life. I love it here. The diversity of people, food, music, and landscapes will always tether my heart to this state.
The reasons for moving to Oregon are fairly straight forward. I cannot afford to buy my first home in the Bay Area. It is abhorrently expensive and completely out of my price range. In order to purchase a home in California I would need to move to a more rural area, several hours away from friends and family. So I would have my very own home, but many aspect of my life would be negatively impacted.
I can’t stand the idea of being incredibly far from the ocean. The salted air and whooosh whooosh of waves is the cathedral for my soul. I very much would like to be able to take drives to the coast without having to make it a complicated or timely ordeal.
Where I live now is just five minutes from a river, twenty from a couple of lakes, and under an hour from the coast. It’s a water mecca. Anywhere I move not only needs to be relatively close to the Pacific Ocean, but I’d prefer for there to be other bodies of water nearby. I also need plenty of opportunities for hiking. If the ocean is my church, then hiking is my form of prayer. Moving my body along miles of trails, seeking self-reflection and gratitude, and appreciating the blink of my life in the universe, is the kind of mediation that betters me. Being in nature keeps me grounded and growing.
I have intentions to move to a particular city in Oregon. A few close friends live there and I’ve really loved the vibe every time I visited. There seem to be a lot of people in my age demographic, and most are very interested in outdoor activities. Actually, it reminds me of a combination of some of the towns in my current county, but in a mountain-esque setting.
I’ve spent many, many months saving money and keeping an eye on the real estate market. I love looking at photo galleries online, perusing through photograph after photograph of quaint backyards and outdated kitchens. With eyes closed I imagine planting a garden and painting cabinets. I can smell the arid pine air and taste the buzzing of young dreams.
The other reason for moving north involves plans for Mom. I cannot take care of her indefinitely. The more she declines, the more my life is impacted. My work hours continue to be reduced with each stage of Alzheimer’s she descends into. My ability to self-care, start a family of my own, socialize with friends, go on vacation, etc. becomes more and more challenging. I cannot foresee how it’s possible to be her end-of-life caregiver and maintain my own life in a healthy way, especially when there’s no guaranteed timeline as to how many more years she’ll be around. So there will eventually come a time when Mom will need to live somewhere comfortable and receive an amount of care that I cannot give her on my own. As far as I can tell, assisted living facilities in California are pricier than most other places, so her bleak financial situation alone makes it necessary for a move out-of-state.
You can see why I have been avoiding tell her my plan.
Earlier this week I saw a house listed online that was priced much lower than comparable properties. It seemed too good to be true, but just to be sure I opted to ask the real estate agent. Ten minutes later a man called to chat about the house. I was right. The listing price was off by a decimal. The house wasn’t $174,000. It was $1,740,000. Definitely out of my price range. He chatted me up for a few minutes, asking what I type of place I was looking for. I gave him my preferences and told him he could email me weekly listings. I didn’t think much of the phone call and continued on with my day.
An hour later I went to find Mom and ask her if she was ready for lunch. I found her sitting in the front room on the couch. Her puzzle was laid out before her but she was sitting very still and looking at her hands. I knew she was stressed because the click click of a fingernail picking at another nail was jarring, a familiar symptom of anxiety.
“Mom, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” She wouldn’t look at me.
“Well, obviously something is wrong because you seem really upset. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?
She choked out the words, “You’re leaving.”
I didn’t want to assume what she was referring to, so I prodded, “What do you mean I’m leaving?”
“You said that you’re moving away.”
“Oh, did you hear me on the phone a bit ago?”
I laughed to lighten the mood, “Mom, don’t be silly. I’m not leaving you behind. You’re coming with me.”
Her tear-laden eyes looked up finally. “I am?”
“Yes, of course! I can’t just leave you here by yourself.”
Pitifully, she replied, “Yes you can. I want you to have your own life.”
“Oh Mama, don’t you worry about that. It’s just that I can’t afford to buy my first house here. As much as I would love to stay, I need to be able to afford my own place. Besides, I think I need a change of scenery for a bit. What do you think about that?”
Her deflated body perked up, straightening itself out as it processed the news.
We talked a while longer about the logistics of moving, why the city I chose is special to me, and the time frame for the move. A lot of things need to be put in place before we leave, so our migration north won’t happen until sometime next year.
At that point her demeanor had transformed.
More surprisingly, the following day she remembered. In fact, the first thing she said when I saw her in the morning was, “When are we moving?” She was like a little kid looking forward to a holiday, giddy at the thought of something new and adventurous. At one point she mentioned looking forward to living near “the candy shop”. I had no idea what she was talking about. Apparently, she believes that she’s been to this city before and it has a huge candy store. I could be wrong, but as far as I know neither is true.
I explained to her that we would likely have our own places. She would have her “apartment” with people there to assist her with whatever she needs, and I would have my first house. I assured her that we would live near one another so that I can visit her all of the time. She seemed completely on board with the idea, though I doubt she fully understands. I assume at some point later on she will get upset when I have to reiterate that I won’t be living with her. I know when the day actually comes around and I have to drop her off it is going to be one of the hardest choices I’ll ever have to face. I dread it with every fiber of my being and feel guilt for opting to re-claim some of my freedoms again.
But for now I am clutching on to this surprising gesture of excitement from her. For over a year I have been imagining Mom fighting me tooth and nail about the decision, assumed that uprooting her from everything and everyone she knows will be devastating. That could very well be the case when it comes down to it, but all I can do is follow her lead and make this an opportunity for betterment instead of what it feels like: a parting of two. One starting a chapter, the other writing her last.