Perseverance is almost universally considered a strength, something everyone should strive for.  But what about when it isn’t? What about when that tunnel vision of perseverance hits the brick wall of reality. My mother’s brick wall was her advanced age (96) and her quickly growing frailty. She was strong willed or, as Dad used to say, bullheaded and determined to stay in her home until the end. No discussion.

Her kids, myself and five others, watched in dismay as she courageously held out against the certainty of time.  It was puzzling why someone so determined was so lax in doing the small things that might have made a difference. Instead of changing the low battery on her hearing aids and keeping the medical alert buzzer on her body at all times, she was both careless and unconcerned.

Her constant talk of being lonely could not be assuaged by suggestions about assisted living. The value of better and regular meals, company and activities were brushed away with distain. I asked her, why would such a people-oriented person as yourself who has the money not take  advantage of these services? Mom’s angry reply was that she’d spent her whole life taking care of her children and now it was their turn to take care of her. This only intensified hard feelings and frustration on both sides.

I admired how each day she took her walker outside and traveled the entire block, greeting neighbors who came out to say hello. But then she was insulted when my sister told her of the worried phone calls she’d gotten from Mom’s unnamed neighbors down the street. That’s when denial set in. And more perseverance.

As winter approached, the fear of Mom being all alone in her big house escalated; we worried even more as unattended pots were left on the stove. Spoiled food was found in the refrigerator and mysterious piles of “very important” papers cluttered every flat surface. It became more common for Mom to be out of reach for hours when the phone was inadvertently left off the hook. Twice,  police arrived at her door when she’d pressed the wrong button.

My sister, her main caregiver, seemed to keep hoping that Mom would wake up one day and suddenly realize it was time. In the end, what finally made the difference was the written list of pro’s and con’s conspicuously placed on the dining room table. My brother and sister went over the list, point by point, each time they visited.

Now that everything is over (assisted living with very poor adjustment, her death a few months later) I can see that Mom used up all her perseverance trying to stay at home. When it came time for transition she had nothing left.

Sometimes the most valuable lessons are learned by observing the behavior of others and coming away saying I’ll never do that or I’ll never act that way.  And while I greatly admire Mom’s strength and her passion, I’ve developed a more refined plan to persevere in the later years of my life. I fully dedicate myself to what I’m able to do each and every day. But I also consider new circumstances and allow myself to change my mind.



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