I have just left home for the first time in over twenty years, to move into a new place with my wife. I was raised by a single mother, and she is now home alone in a house that seems a little too big for her. She’s a senior citizen, and while she’s okay living on her own, I also worry about her safety. I would offer for her to live with me, but I know for sure that would cause unnecessary stress with my wife, and my mother would never impose.
Any tips or solutions to absolve my guilt?
Concerned from very distant Pasig
Last summer, my family and I took a vacation to the US. Apart from the usual sightseeing and socializing, I relished in what I think is a severely underrated activity: couch basking. While indulging in my Gilmore Girls reruns, I was subjected to a ton of crap infomercials (there was no Netflix in the house). The one that still haunts me is this ad for a 911 pendant you wear around your neck.
The idea is that you’ll be able to get help if you find yourself incapacitated and alone. In typical infomercial fashion, painful reenactments of silver-haired women clutching their chests in pain and collapsing on the floor followed. Cut to: the same women talking about how they would’ve died if they weren’t able to call 911 using the wonder pendant. Am I scaring you?
I got scared too—most especially during a scene where it was a 3-year-old girl who was able to press the pendant for help. I’m alone a lot with my 1-year-old daughter and I often think about what could happen if something were to happen to me. I guess what I’m trying to say is: even without infomercials, the fear of mortality combined with isolation is very real.
I want to validate what you’re feeling. At the same time, you’re also exercising wisdom in starting off your life with your wife on your own. As someone who lived with family for the first few months of our marriage, if you have option to be on your own, I will tell you to take it. I have had an octogenarian relative barge into our room while the hubs and I were fighting and she was pleading us to stop yelling and instead pen letters instead. I don’t wish that upon you. Cherish your private spaces.
You write to me asking if I can help absolve the guilt. We have a lot to learn when we listen to our guilt. In your case, the logical parts on your brain have made a decision, but the heart doesn’t seem to be on board yet. You have to employ solutions that would appease that part of you that holds your empathy.
I don’t doubt that your mom can take care of herself and in the Philippines, we’re lucky that our households are compromised of extended families and helpers. What you’re really asking me is this: “How can I still be a presence in my mother’s life?”
There is a middle ground between your mom living on her own and you having her move in. The middle ground involves navigating this new living environment and figuring out your new roles. I think about the older people in my family a lot.
The octogenarian relative with no boundary issues I mentioned earlier is my grandmother. She’s still sharp as a tack. She can still carry my 20-pound daughter like it’s nothing. All the members of my family attribute it to the fact that she plays mahjong three times a week. It’s not just the mahjong. I suspect that what keeps her lucid and active is a dedicated routine.
I see the same thing with my husband’s 80-something grandmother in the US. She lives alone in her own house. She may be legally blind in one eye but she still drives around in her hulking Cadillac. She also has a routine. She tends to her plants and exercises in the morning. She goes to church, she has a rotation of friends and family she visits, and she sees her hairdresser on Thursdays. She knows her way around a computer and we e-mail each other several times a year.
These routines are life. It brings people together and it creates a rhythm that allows everyone to be able to keep tabs on you. Your mom probably already has her own routine. Find your place in it. Insert yourself in those motions. Block off Sundays for her. Schedule lunch or dinner dates. Start a family Viber group if you don’t have one, or if you do, don’t mute it. Keep the conversations going.
You’re a good son. You have a big heart. There’s a lot of room for new routines.
Illustration: Madel Crudo
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