Woman looking out to see as she ponders convincing a parent it's time for assisted living.

The Mother Who Cried Wolf (Or, How We Convinced Mom It Was Time for Assisted Living)

“A shepherd-boy who watched a flock of sheep near a

village brought out the villagers three or four times by

  crying out, ‘Wolf! Wolf!’ when there was no wolf…”

                                                             -Aesop’s Fable

My mother was like the boy who cried, “Wolf!”

Only my mom didn’t cry, “Wolf!” Instead, she said, “Take me to the emergency room!”

Countless times, in both good weather and bad, I drove the 40 miles between Mom and me. And then came the night when all the driving conditions I hate happened simultaneously: darkness, fog, and driving rain.

That night as I stepped through the door into Mom’s independent-living apartment, she spoke cheerily from her lavender recliner.

“Actually, I’m fine. You can go back home now.”

“This has to stop! “ I yelled. “I can’t keep doing this every four or five days.” Her eyes darted to the wall between her apartment and her neighbor’s and I knew she was wondering if the woman could hear me shouting.

“I think it’s time  to move you over to the assisted-living side,” I said. “They have around the clock medical staff so if you choke or fall or aren’t feeling well, they’re right there.”

I didn’t say goodbye or kiss her cheek. I simply turned around and left.

My outburst bought me a stretch of time when Mom didn’t call insisting on being taken to the ER or an urgent care clinic. “Maybe I don’t need to move after all,” she said. Maybe she’s right, I thought. Maybe she finally respects my time. But the hiatus was a short one.

The night before Thanksgiving, Mom called as I was sauteeing mushrooms and celery for the stuffing. “You have to take me to the emergency room.”

“This isn’t fair, Mom. The kids just got here. You’re asking me to choose between them and you.” I couldn’t face what I knew would happen if I said yes—hours spent in a waiting room before hearing yet another medical care provider assure us there was nothing physically wrong with Mom and we should go home.

I talked the situation over with Tony Bear and discussed it with my oldest brother, a physician. Both agreed the cycle would never stop until I drew a boundary.

Pondering what to do, I recalled a line from Melody Beattie’s book, Codependent No More:* “We rescue people from their responsibilities. We take care of people’s responsibilities for them. Later we get mad at them for what we’ve done. Then we feel used and sorry for ourselves. That is the pattern, the triangle.”

That night,

I told my mother if she wanted to go to the emergency room, she’d have to call an ambulance herself. 

And she did.

For once, something actually was wrong. To her credit, after Mom was treated and discharged, she arranged her own transportation back to her apartment.

The day after Thanksgiving, I added Mom’s name to the waiting list for an apartment in the assisted-living wing of her senior living community. Six weeks later, an alcove unit became available in the same building where she was living. Though it was right beside the nurses’ station and mere steps from the dining room, she refused to go upstairs for a tour.

“Alcove apartment,” she sneered. “It’s probably the size of a closet. I’m not going anywhere.”

“You are moving up there,” I told her. “You have to.”

She dug in. I dug deeper. 

For over a week, she phoned me five to twelve times a day. Her calls went unanswered, into my voicemail box. Until it was full.

At Mom’s next doctor’s appointment, her physician took me out in the hall. “I insist you move her into a facility with a supervised med pass. She’s not safe on her own.”

On the way home, when I told Mom what her doctor had said, she crossed her arms and shook her head no.

“I won’t do it. You can’t make me.”

A few days later, she meekly agreed to move after my oldest brother, her power of attorney, called to tell her she had to. Later that day, she phoned to tell me she wasn’t moving anywhere.

As the battle escalated, I wrote out 12 notecards listing reasons Mom should move, and arranged them before me on the kitchen table. I prayed as I downed two cups of Death Wish coffee, trying to psyche myself up for the call.

My phone rang. It was Tony.

“It’s settled. I convinced your mom to move over to assisted living.”

“You called her? What did you say?”

“I told her she has no choice, that if I have to personally carry her over to that side of the building, I will. And she said, ‘yes.’” He added that he may or may not have mentioned “putting her in a headlock.” He wouldn’t. Would he?

A month after Mom moved into the cozy little alcove apartment, she was perfect. Normal. Happy even.

For months prior to the move, she’d appeared malnourished. Probably because, concerned for her figure and blood sugar, she only ate half of a diet meal for supper each night. Eating two nutritious, diabetic-friendly meals a day in the dining room added a much-needed ten pounds to her frame.

For the first time in ages, she was sleeping through the night. Remarkably, her anxiety was gone. What she’d fought so fiercely against had turned out to be exactly what she needed.

Every afternoon, seven days a week, Mom plays cards with six other ladies. 

This journey reminds me of a term I learned a long time ago—agape love. It means doing what’s in “the best interest of a fellow human being.”

As it relates to parenting, I understand this concept completely. More than once I’ve applied it with my own children. As a child caring for an aging parent, though, it’s much harder.

It’s difficult to go against another person’s wishes, especially when the person is an adult. 

Because Mom protested the change with such vehemence, I believed I was wrong. Her refusal made me think that to move her would be heartless. A voice inside of me said I was being selfish, that I was moving her to make my life better, not hers.

Once Mom began to take her meds correctly, her improvement—in physical health and disposition—was so rapid and remarkable that I found myself wishing we’d moved her sooner. But, as they say, better late than never.

Looking back, I thank God for the doctor who insisted Mom move. And I thank God for a husband willing to yet again take a stand on my behalf to make it happen. I’m also grateful for the people who prayed for us during that difficult time. Thank you. Thank you so much.

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