Elaine & Dot

Mama Drama

By Dr. Patricia L. Bay, Psy.D.
Published in W Magazine, August 2010

My mama has always said that growing old is not for the "faint of heart." Until I reached an age where getting out of bed in the morning made me feel parts of my body I did not usually have to think about, I thought she meant that old people had weak hearts. As I have watched her recover so bravely from the death of her husband of 63 years, her "brave heart" statement carries a whole new meaning. It is more about embracing the life you have, whatever be your circumstances or age, than it is about whining about the things you can no longer do or the parts of your body that now complain as you get out of bed.

After my father's death eight months ago, my mom, Elaine, moved into Shasta Estates Retirement Residence. Giving up her home and adapting to an entirely new way of life has been a challenge that she has embraced as a huge adventure. The thing I have loved the most is watching her smile and laugh again. For many years, she cared tirelessly for my father as he made a slow decline into Alzheimer's disease. The freedom my mother now has to make friends, have fun and be herself is incredible to observe.

My mom calls a woman named Dot her "new best friend." This makes me smile for a whole bunch of reasons. The main reason is that I think it so darned cute to see these 80- plus-year-old women giggling like college girls in the dorm. Another reason it makes me happy is that Dot happens to be the mother of Sam, my best friend of 20 years. We have been telling our moms for years that they would be best girlfriends, just like the two of us. Dot's husband died in February and Sam moved her from Arkansas out to California and into Shasta Estates. The two mamas hit it off and have been enjoying each others company for months, along with a bunch of people at the new place.

One evening I received a frantic call from the mamas. They were in my mom's apartment trying to get a bottle of wine opened so they could have a little nightcap. I was glad they could not see the smile on my face as I pictured the two "teetotalers" downing their one-quarter glass of vino and going at opening the bottle with such gusto and determination. They were screaming with laughter and joking that neither of them had the requisite upper body strength to get the cork out of the bottle. "What are we going to do?" I heard my sweet little southern accented mama proclaim. Then she said, "I'm laughing so hard I think I'm going to pee my pants."

"I know," I heard Dot exclaim, "I have a bottle in my apartment that doesn't have the cork in it all the way. I told Sam not to stick it in too far so that I could get it out again. Let's go!"

My mom seemed to remember that I was on the phone listening — well, actually I was laughing. She grabbed the phone and announced, "We have to go. We're heading over to Dot's place. We've got it all figured out."

I hung up the phone smiling at the vision of the two mamas charging down the hallway at full speed. I laughed out loud as I thought about what full speed for a couple of spry 80 somethings looked like. I suppose growing old is not for the "faint of heart." All you really need is one of those fancy hydraulic wine bottle openers and the rest will take care of itself.