Could you imagine putting your life on hold and moving in with your mother to care for her as she was getting older — until she passed away? That’s what sisters Lucy Ellen Smith and Mary Ann Evans did for their mother Fran Evans. Only they did not view it as putting their lives on hold.
It was our life. On the one hand, it would be easy to say we gave up stuff, but we gained so much and taking care of family — that is life.
Lucy Ellen Smith
And taking care of their mother is something they always knew they would do.
We had a mom who made it pretty clear that taking care of your elderly parents was the way that you should do it. At home. Because that’s what she did.
Mary Anne Evans
Their mother was in her 80s when they realized she probably needed some help. Their father has passed away and she was living alone in their home, which was fairly large, in Maine. Lucy and her husband lived in Chicago and Mary Anne, who was divorced at the time, lived in Ohio.
There were many phone conversations between the sisters and their brother, who also lived out of state and they came up with various scenarios they thought would work. First, Mary Anne’s daughter Kirsta moved in with her grandmother. After two and a half years, she needed a break and her mother stepped in for the next three years.
I got a very spiritual calling to leave and go to Maine to be with mom. I actually left before my youngest son was out of high school. He gave me his blessing to go and I went up there assuming that I would stay for the rest of life and maybe mine. I had no intentions of moving back to Ohio.
But love made her change her mind. She had met a man back in Ohio shortly before moving to Maine. They carried on a long distance romance and eventually decided to get married, which they did at Fran’s house.
She lived there, without her new husband, for another year and a half before deciding the arrangement wasn’t working anymore. The three siblings discussed a variety of scenarios. In the end, Lucy and her husband Carroll decided to leave Chicago and move to Maine.
It seemed to make the most practical sense for Carroll and me to take care of mom because our children, at that point, had left home and our brother’s daughter was still quite young and in school.
Lucy and her husband lived with her mother for seven years, until she died in 2012 at the age of 91. A short time later, they moved back to Chicago. But the story of caring for Fran did not end there. Lucy and Mary Anne had learned so much from the experience, they decided to write a book. It’s not only about caring for an aging loved one, but also about what they learned about themselves in the process.
I would say one of the things that I really learned about myself was my inability to listen well and what it means to listen well. I began to realize that I really enjoy just listening for the sake of hearing something from somebody. I put that to practice with mom as much as I could. It was kind of hard sometimes, but if you can do it with your mother, you can probably do with anybody. So, I would say for me, one of the big things was learning that I needed to be able to listen better.
I thought I knew my mom and I thought she knew me and I realized we didn’t really know each other that well. I left home at the age of 21 and it had been 40 years since I had lived in the same town with her. I think this idea that I thought I knew my mom sort of mushroomed into this feeling that I really don’t know anybody that well. We form these opinions and then operate out of who we think people are and when they don’t behave like we think they should we get upset. This was a huge learning for me.
The name of their book is Embracing Our Final Days: A Journey of Care to the End. Lucy and Mary Anne aren’t the only authors. Mary Anne’s sister-in-law Rebecca also contributed. Her mother developed Alzheimer’s and rather than living at home spent her final years in a nursing home.
And I saw how the pluses and the minuses of each one of those ways of doing it presented themselves — maybe opposite to each other, but with equal weight. So that by the time we got done, one of the things that became very important to me to say in this book was, there just isn’t any one right way to do this. You really have to follow your gut and do what you think is best.
Their circumstances were different, but they shared some experiences. Fran didn’t have Alzheimer’s but did have age-related dementia. The three women were able to compare notes and provide support for each other.
It turned out that our mothers were tracking in their journey almost exactly. We realized at some point that their symptoms were similar. I said something to Mary Ann and she said, well you better call Becky to find out how she’s dealing with that because her mother’s doing that.
The two mothers died within three weeks of each other. Their daughters make it clear in their book that none of them is an expert in medicine or psychology. But they certainly gained some expertise and wisdom as they loved and cared for their mothers. They hope other people will be able to use some of what they learned in their own journeys.
If you live in Maine, you’re invited to meet Mary Anne and Lucy in person. They’re giving presentations about their book this weekend.
Embracing Our Final Days: A Journey of Care to the End
Saturday, May 18 at 2:00 pm
Westbrook-Warren Congregational Church
810 Main Street
Sunday, May 19 at 11:30 am
First Parish Church
1 Church Street