Flying Nuns

By Pamela Kaye

A home health care worker with a clipboard.

(This piece first appeared in the online publication MixedMag.)

My wife and I finally settled into a financially and physically secure retirement. Two years ago, we bought our forever home, unpacked boxes that had been in storage, and eased into the next chapter of life; for me, this included writing, painting, crafting, and grandchildren.

This week we’re packing boxes and putting our house on the market. We’re putting out a big chunk of money to reserve a new home being built in our neighborhood. Aptly called “The Boat House” model, the home is crazy big but has a bedroom, bathroom, and sitting room on the main floor where mom can live, and a one-bedroom apartment over the detached garage where my brother can live. My brother is recently retired and seems committed to taking care of Mom. Mom is 87 years old, and her husband, George, doesn’t want to live with her anymore; good riddance, in my mind. Mom still thinks that going back to Missouri to live with George is an option. Sarah, Kevin, and I are moving forward with The Boat House, assuming she’ll live with us in California. It will either be the perfect solution for Mom or the ruin of our finances, maybe even the wreck of family relationships. The whole thing feels risky but also right.

For now, Mom is living in our guest room, and my brother is living in my studio space. We’re all still keeping up the cheerful demeanor of hosts and guests, but it’s wearing thin. I lost my humor two days ago after an hour-and-a-half wait in the doctor’s office, followed by a 15-minute consult with the doctor, and then a two-hour drive home through rush hour traffic. I haven’t yet recovered my humor.

Recently, I’ve learned about incontinence products. First, you can’t buy singles to see how they fit; you have to buy a pack of 32. And when they don’t fit, there’s no clear place to donate the other 31 of them in an opened package. It’s tough to find products small enough for a 95-pounder. The disposable underpants need to be reinforced with a night pad, but the pad gets bunched up in the crotch because the stick-em doesn’t stick to the underpants; it does stick to your crotch, though, so I’m picturing myself sewing pads into the panties. (I ended up stapling the pads in—it worked pretty well.)

Then there’s the hair issue; it’s always been a big deal for Mom. She still goes to the beauty shop once a week and has her hair “set” and sits under the dryer, which I imagine feels good because she takes a blood thinner, which means she’s always cold. (Mom has a stuffed teddy bear she likes to sleep with; she wraps the teddy bear in a towel so it doesn’t get cold.) Did you know that people don’t use curlers anymore? People get their hair “styled” using a curling iron or simply blow-dried. My mom brought three curlers with her, and the dog mauled one, so now I’m looking for curlers. Who knew nobody sells them anymore? Idea for a franchise: a roaming hairstylist who will do hair in your home just the way you like it; called Elder Hair.

My mom is still about 80% mentally and physically functional, but the missing 20% can be kind of amazing at any given time. Yesterday morning I went in to help her dress, and she’d gotten on a pair of pants, then her double-padded underwear over the pants. I just went with it and put another pair of pants over all of that. It turns out I’m not a very good daughter after all.

A caseworker from Visiting Angels came to our home to discuss their services and see how they might help. I talked about it with Mom the next day, and she called them the Flying Nuns. The following day she referred to them as the Weeping Willows.

A couple of nights ago, the real estate agent was in our dining room, and I saw Mom head up the stairs. She does pretty well, one stair at a time, then her toe hit the step on the landing, and she fell. I raced upstairs; fortunately, she’s a tough old bird and small enough for me to pick her up. Sarah hustled the real estate agent around the corner to make sure we didn’t get reported for elder abuse. It’s been difficult. We’re all trying our hardest and doing our best; most of all, Mom.

We’ve got a bumpy ride ahead of us. We don’t know when or if our house will sell. We don’t know when the house we want to buy will be finished. Mom doesn’t even quite realize she’ll be moving from Missouri to California, although the rest of us are planning on it. I have a vision, an intention, for where we’re heading, but I sure don’t know how or even if we’ll all make it. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep writing because when I’ve lost my humor, I usually find it again in my writing.

Category: Featured, Memoir, Nonfiction