TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Watching Mom Grow Old

Impatience. That’s the word that comes to mind when I think about my childhood years. Well, maybe even my older ones. It’s just that there always seemed like there were a million things to do and never enough time to do it.

As a Baby Boomer, we had more choices than our parents. And now, our kids have far more than we did.

My parents were probably a lot like most American folks who grew up in the Silent Generation. As children, they got an early dose of despair during the Depression. They survived a world war as young adults, but not without plenty of pain and sacrifice. And then came maybe the toughest challenge of all: Raising a family in the Fifties, when money was tight, stereotypes abounded and just about everybody smoked.

It certainly took a toll on my father. He was enlisted into the Army right out of high school and served in Italy. Never getting a chance to attend college, Jerry Coyne came home from Europe and immediately got married, went to work as a land surveyor and started a family.

Dad seldom complained, was pridefully stoic and a loving husband and father. But while toiling to provide opportunities for my mother, sister and me, he fought strokes and heart disease and died in 1994 at the age of 73.

Mom, on the other hand, has always been the survivor. Grace Johnson was just 16 when she first met Jerry Coyne at a south Minneapolis soda fountain. She waited four years for her high school sweetheart to return from World War II.  They married in 1948 and at 24, Grace had to grow up quickly. Wife, mother, homemaker, school board member, receptionist, cook. … Again, I’m sure this story is not dissimilar to so many others.

Fast forward to 2016. We are incredibly blessed to have Mom still here at 92. And if ever a person deserved to be treated royally by her now retirement age children, it’s this woman.

It’s just that Mom has always been there for my sister Cheryl and me. So when your main provider gradually needs help herself, the role reversals can prove challenging for everyone.

For several years now, I’ve made Friday afternoons with Mom, a regular occurrence. We typically go out for a nice lunch, then spend some quality time together at her place. My sister has reserved Wednesdays as her moments with Mother, handling the grocery and hair salon duties.

Mom recently moved out of her house and into an elderly residence, where she’s closer and safer … and we like that.

So I return to that word, “impatience.” At 92, Mom is understandably slowing down. She needs a cane and sometimes even a walker, to navigate. Her memory is gradually fading, so it’s pretty common to hear the same story at least three or four times within an hour or two. The woman who loved to entertain or see her grandchildren’s activities, is now less inclined to make the effort.

As caregivers, we want what’s best for our mother. But more frequently now, that’s simply not so easily defined.

When Mom refuses to use the microwave to heat up healthier foods, is she just being stubborn and lazy? Or is that expected behavior at 92?

When she’s insistent on avoiding a bath or will only accept “a booth by the restroom” when getting seated at a restaurant, is this being “independent,” “feisty,” or flat out “rude?”

I’m convinced we’ve been spoiled by the assumption that because Mom has always been around for us, our roles and expected behaviors should never change. But aging guarantees that all of us are changing constantly, even if at times, ever so slightly.

I’m sure for Mom, being 92 is not all fun and games. Almost all of her close friends have either died or are in poor health now. It’s more difficult to interact with others, too, since her faculties are fading.

So from her perspective, it’s probably easy to become impatient when her 60-something children can’t empathize with what she’s experiencing. The “survivor” in Mom sees it as self-preservation, not selfishness. Cautious, not callous.

I know that these special Fridays won’t go on forever. So I need to savor and embrace them, rather than grow impatient or second-guess Mom’s decision-making these days.

Grace Coyne has seen her four grandchildren all graduate from college, become young adults and now one is even engaged to be married. Those are moments I only wish her husband had been around to experience.

2 thoughts on “TOM COYNE: Back In Circulation — Watching Mom Grow Old”

  • Naomi Dunavan March 30, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    A very beautiful read, Tom. We need more of this sort of thing.

    1. Tom Coyne March 30, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      Thanks much, Naomi. I will let my mom know you liked it!


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