• Favors

    by Mardith Louisell

    Someone was pulling two empty shopping carts into the apartment building lobby. The old woman, who had gone to get her mail, recognized her next door neighbors’ daughter.

    “What’s going on?” the old woman asked.

    “My father’s been moved to a nursing home and we finally convinced my mother to move to assisted living. We’re clearing out the apartment.”

    “Oh, that’s hard,” the woman answered. Both women stopped at the elevator and waited.

    Suddenly, the daughter turned and faced the woman.

    “You should move right away. You shouldn’t wait. While you can, you should do it.”

    The daughter was fuming. Her eyes were fixed on the woman. It was slightly intimidating. She was tall and looked strong. The woman was eighty-seven years old and small. When the elevator arrived, the two entered together.

    “You should move over there,” the daughter said, pointing to a compound of three large structures to the east of the apartment building. It was a new independent and assisted living facility that had taken five years of constant noise and disruption to complete.

    “I’ll miss seeing your mom and dad,” the old woman said, trying to smooth the awkwardness in the small elevator.

    “Do you know it took three doctors,” the daughter was yelling now, “to convince my stubborn mother that she couldn’t take care of dad anymore and that she should move? Three doctors and me!”

    “Oh,” the woman said, “your parents had a lovely three bedroom apartment. It would be hard to leave.” The daughter and the woman were going to the same floor. The elevator seemed to ascend slowly.

    “I don’t know how your mother did it,” the woman went on. The daughter’s mother needed a walker but still managed to lift her large husband out of the bed to the wheelchair and back each day. “She’s amazing.”

    The daughter glared at the woman.

    “Why do you want to stay here? Do your kids a big favor and move into assisted living! Why do you want to cook lunch and dinner when you could get it over there?”

    “I cook for myself because I can.”

    “We’ve been to the dump twice, clearing the furniture, the papers, the lamps, the clothes. Do your kids a big favor and move over there.”

    They left the elevator on the fourth floor and the conversation continued as they made the long laborious walk down the hallway toward the two apartments, the neighbor’s daughter banging the two shopping carts against each other, the old woman unsteady on her feet because of age. By the time the old woman took out her key and opened the door, she felt guilty for not moving.

    Even though the old woman was tired and weak, she never moved to assisted living. Instead she stayed in her apartment with its view of the lake. She watched the ore boats coming into and going out of the harbor. She made her own food and did her own laundry because she could.

    In Memory of Deborah Siskind Louisell, Nov. 21, 2012

    • What a moving tribute to your mother! I liked the tension between the out of control daughter and the quiet, dignified assertion of the woman and the small pleasures she enjoyed because of her choice. Beautifully written too!

    • Mardith, a lovely story and I am glad you Mom was able to stay and enjoy her last days. My sister and I moved my Mom out of a big house that she and my dad have lived in for over 50 years. It was a lot of work but my mom is in a new place with caregivers. She never wanted assisted living so fortunately she can afford to have the care she needs. My sister and I were lucky we got along enough to do this massive project and I can see how others can become bitter and angry. Controlling and strong parents can wreck havoc on their adult children. You were blessed that your mom could do it. Some are not as lucky. My mom has become more and more disabled and put up a fight as did my Dad (before he died). We had to take driving privileges first and then it was downhill from there. This is one of the best reasons to not be an only child. We need siblings to get through this transition.

      • Ann W

      • December 16, 2012 at 5:07 pm
      • Reply

      Here’s to the can-do spirit and the virtues of a lake view! I definitely
      relate to the vitality of this “old woman” your mother and will keep her memory, through your story, with me. Thanks Mardi!

      • Nancy D.

      • December 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm
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      Dear Mardi–I love the details in this story: achingly slow elevator, shopping carts, constant noise and disruption. And the peaceful contrast of the view of the lake with the ore boats coming and going. Your mother lived a long, full life–but losing a mother hurts. Take good care. Nancy

      • Maya North

      • December 16, 2012 at 6:13 pm
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      Oh, that made me teary. My father is 90 and married to my lovely stepmother. They live in the house my parents bought 46 years ago. My dad is on oxygen now, but the rest of him is sturdy and strong and his mind is as sharp as ever. Who cares if he tells the same story more than once; frankly, so do I.

      My mother and her sisters decided it was time their mother was put in an assisted living center. They stripped her entire life away from her, leaving her with an afghan, a rolodex full of pictures–and no personal context whatsoever. She wound up so stressed that she had to have her gall bladder removed, a surgery from which she never recovered.

      Some people are ready to live in the relative ease of assisted living. More power to them. Others just need a little company and a helping hand now and then. Those people deserve the respect of their own choices.

      I am sorry that woman blasted your mother–however well meant, that was bullying. I’m just glad your mother had *you* and that she got to make her own choices…


      • Paula Leahy

      • December 16, 2012 at 6:17 pm
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      Gave me the goosebumps. I can just see her, Mardi, although I’ve never met her. Do you recall that my dad and your dad corresponded, I can’t remember what about.

      My mother died over 11 years ago, at age 97. She had just her birthday, I was to pick her up for the weekend as I usually did. A friend was in town, I told her I would see her in the morning.. When I called her the next morning, no answer, and I went over there. When I walked into the house I knew she was gone, the house just had this empty soul-less feeling.

      The deal is (sorry to digress here, this is about me!!! not you ha)) my mother had her 97th birthday. I stayed over night cause I just felt something was going to happen. I got up in the am, made her get up( I don’t get up this early she said!)so I could make her breakfast before I left for work.

      Then the day I was home, and the next day..when I went over there. she died in her own house, never would have left..I wanted her to move in with us, we would buy a house she could live in with no stairs.. she would have nothing to do with it..

      She was in perfect (as far as we could tell) health.. she died in bed, dishes done, like she had just gone asleep.

      Anyway.. if the daughter is you in the story, I can see you.. incredulous that she wouldn’t move. These are the women that raised us to be who we are, however, and why are we surprised how they acted. They wanted to do something, and as you said, because they could, they did. Not such a bad lesson for us, dear friend!!

      Great great story..

      • emily

      • December 16, 2012 at 6:57 pm
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      “because she could” – love this.

      • SK

      • December 17, 2012 at 9:42 am
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      I feel for both characters in your story.

      When my Grandma was 96 she moved herself out of her house to an assisted living facility. It was a surprise Christmas gift for the family she said. A year later because the folks at the facility had raised the rent, and also lost some of her socks, she moved herself back home. A few years on this is where she passed away.

        • Mardi Louisell

        • December 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm
        • Reply

        Hi, SK, I love this story. Especially the part about the socks. That would be exactly as this old woman in the story would have reacted and she didn’t want to be eating the food they made either. Thank you for reading it and for your sympathy for both characters. Interestingly, the mother of the daughter in the story, in real life, died a week before the old woman in the story. Mardi

      • Christine Dill

      • December 17, 2012 at 10:48 am
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      Oh Mardi, that said it all. Loved the story.

      • Dianne Dunn

      • December 17, 2012 at 11:57 am
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      So sorry to learn of your mother’s death , Mardi. I am so glad she was able to live in her own home,as was her wish, until the end. My father lived in his home until he died at age 70. Not everyone is so fortunate. My mother is 85 and living on a memory care unit due to dementia and is nearly blind from macular degeneration. I feel as though I lose a little of her every time I see her. Enough about me. I hope you find comfort in knowing she was very much present until the end of her life. Your writing, as always , resonates with me. Life is so much about the mundane and the sublime, and I love the way in which you weave them together.

    • Strong story of a Strong and Independent Woman, like you Mardith, colliding with a ubiquitous culture of convenience, what a lesson.

      May you and your family find strength together Mardi.


      • Sarah Maxwell

      • December 17, 2012 at 4:39 pm
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      So sorry to hear about your mother. No matter how prepared one might or might not be it is always a challenging time, causing us to remember so many events in our lives and those we have lost. Know the kind thoughts of many are with you….


      • Susan Blank

      • December 17, 2012 at 7:22 pm
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      In a very short space you encapsulated the hard, hard conflict between the needs of the elderly for as much autonomy as they can wrest for themselves and the burdens that places on adult children. No one and everyone is right. Oy vey. But better than saying oy vey is to write a story like yours.

      • Kay

      • December 17, 2012 at 11:27 pm
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      Mardi, Loved the story and the writing. I hope that we all can have your mother’s fortitude even if we don’t have the same level of supportive daughters and sons.

      • Becca

      • December 18, 2012 at 2:10 am
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      This is lovely. Thank you.

      • Dee Delaney

      • December 18, 2012 at 8:11 am
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      What a wonderful, well written tribute to my Mom’s best friend in Duluth! As you know, I had the pleasure of visiting her last summer and was pleased that she was still able to live on her own. She was a good example of how to grow old gracefully and with humor. She seemed to have adjusted her lifestyle a bit and realized that she had to be flexible about what she could or could not do on a given day. That said, this special woman truly “could.” May she rest in peace.

      • Ann M

      • December 18, 2012 at 5:38 pm
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      A beautiful and layered piece about so many things Mardi – quiet dignity, intolerance and skewed expectations. It has so many wonderful images too – grinding shopping trolleys; grinding development; quiet ore boats and the lovely lake that framed your mother’s life for so long. I love it and it captures much of what I remember of your mother – what a tribute to her

      • Helga Z

      • December 18, 2012 at 7:55 pm
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      I love how you describe your mother and her determination.

      • Colleen

      • December 21, 2012 at 10:07 am
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      What a beautiful story about your mother and her strength of spirit. Sorry to hear she has passed on.

      • Kathleen cotter Cauley

      • December 23, 2012 at 8:02 am
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      Hi mardi
      Dede sent this to me. I loved it. Beautifully written.
      When your Mom died I know that Mary o’connor Cotter was at Heaven’s
      gate to greet her. Love, kathleen

      • Sheila

      • December 23, 2012 at 10:41 am
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      Dear Mardith,
      What a poignant story! The quiet dignity and stillness of the older woman made a direct connection to the (view of the) lake, for me. I enjoyed reading it. Best wished to you…

      • Linda

      • February 15, 2013 at 1:09 am
      • Reply

      Here’s to doing what we want, when and where we want, just because we can . . .

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