(”the wreath signaled everything…She’d adjusted to her new home) 

When “the Decision” Hurts You …Waaayyy More Than It Does Her

On each of the pivotal points, when I should’ve made a decision, I stalled, thinking “maybe she’s happier in her home”…”maybe her driving isn’t as feckless as it seems”…”maybe no one will cheat her.”

Nope, I deferred to her and allowed my 85+ year old, cognitively-challenged Mom to make major decisions affecting her well-being. In retrospect, that’s just not smart.

In fact, it’s pretty stupid. But there you are:  I did it.

My only saving grace is that I’m hardly alone. Countless others fall into this trap every year which is why I am writing this piece.

In the 90’s, Mom was in her 80’s and living alone in the 2-story Cape house in West Warwick, my siblings and I had grown up in. It sat on a half acre of land and pretty much all the neighbors with whom we’d grown up had left—died…relocated, etc. There were few who knew Mom from earlier days. That thought never comforted me at night, especially, when I thought of her all alone, over there (20 mins away).

I’d been out with her, on occasion, when she opened her wallet to clerks, saying “Just take what I owe you, dear.” I shuddered at what happened when I wasn’t with her. Another time, I found a $20.00 bill in an envelope addressed to the electric company. She was about to mail it.

Then there were the times she drove her car, only to get lost. Once she ran over a fire hydrant and then dragged it 100 yards in a watery trail until it dropped off. Bystanders called the police. My little Mr. Magoo type mother (who left a trail of wreckage wherever she went) now had a police record. Her crime? Vandalism ….and leaving the scene of an accident.

Counter to my opinion, my out-of-state brother hired a Medic Alert company but success here would’ve necessitated Mom being aware of the required sequence: If she pressed the pendant around her neck (signaling a problem), the company would call and if they got no response, they’d send police and fire. She doubtless thought the pendant a Catholic scapula and pressed it by mistake. Then, because she didn’t answer the call from the company, they alerted “a senior is down,” to police; officers smashed through her door; the glass window was shattered; the locks were destroyed. The fix-up took two weeks.

After this, I took away her car keys.

Following that,  3 of the 4 of us “kids” emptied our childhood home in preparation for sale. We reestablished Mom in a facility that could accommodate the changes that would be imminent; her meals would be provided; she’d now have companionship. It was only 15 minutes from my home.

But she punished me. She refused to speak to me for 2 weeks. In the 3rd week, when I came down the inner hall to her room, I noted a wreath on her door. She was speaking to me again. She’d made the adjustment the home administrators had told me to expect.

Over the next year, she became one of the home’s most popular residents.

And by the end of her stay, she was voted “Miss Greenwich Bay.”

I realized only later that Mom had been making a game effort all those years, living alone in the old family home. It occurred to me that she must have been very lonely.

My takeaway? We caretakers worry so much about “preserving” our parents’ rights, we miss the weightier signs all about—signs that tell us to help them adjust to a new life. If we acted sooner, all of us would’ve been better off (and a lot happier).

If you know of someone struggling with these types of decisions, please send them a copy of this post. Or feel free, too, to Comment below. Your thoughts are always appreciated.

Colleen Kelly Mellor (colleenkellymellor.com) writes of the joys and challenges of caretakers. She invites and appreciates your comments. She may also be reached at colleenkellymellor@gmail.com


  • May 27, 2021

    Kirsti Svendsen

    Thank you for daring to open up the door to one, of so many, extremely complex, and often very painful, family issues. Your story “ended” well. However, you speak honestly of the difficult thought processes and of trials and errors made…before there was a better solution.

  • May 27, 2021

    Diane Blansett

    This is encouraging to those of us who will be faced with this decision soon. It has been my prayer since day one of his diagnosis that I would be able to care for him at home until God calls him home. That’s still my prayer, but only God knows how this will play out.

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