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Oliver: Passing years take toll on Mom’s independence

Published: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 10:54 p.m. CDT

At the time, I was 19. Back then, I thought 65 was old.

Dad had just retired from his job at McHenry Community High School District 156, and I equated retirement with old age. You know, you work your “whole” life and then you retire to enjoy yourself. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Sadly, Dad didn’t have a chance to do that.

Now that I’ve seen a few more summers myself, I realize that I never had to see my father grow old.

The cancer that took his life was not a function of age, and it killed him before he succumbed to the changes brought on by the march of time.

Not so with my mother.

When Dad died, Mom was still in her 50s. By all accounts, she was relatively young, even though she, too, seemed old to me then. What did I know?

Today she is 82, and even she admits that she isn’t as young as she used to be. She is – as much as I hate to admit it now – old.

She’s become tiny and frail, though she maintains a toughness that has made her a survivor all these years. Her eyesight has been on the fritz for years, but it’s only been recently that we’ve had to have the discussion about turning over the car keys.

I’ve dreaded that conversation for a long time. Because with it comes the one where I persuade her to come live with me.

None of us wants to lose our independence, and my mother is no different.

Yet I think we both fear it for more than that. 

Having lost one parent, I really don’t want to lose the other. And no one really wants to face one’s own mortality.

Mom moved to Georgia a few years after my father died, so she’s been in the South for a couple of decades. It’s been a great place to visit, but I’ve never really wanted to live there.

When she left Illinois, she also took with her more than a few remnants from my childhood.Just how many of them she saved hadn’t occurred to me until I started to box things up for donation. My home just isn’t big enough to accommodate it all.

All those knickknacks I hated to dust? Still there. Even the group of tiny ceramic dogs that had to be cleaned individually and put back in the exact same spot. 

I suppose there was at least some satisfaction knowing that they soon might be the bane of some other young dusters. Better them than me.

However, there was some sadness, too. Letting go isn’t easy.

I hate to see my mother have to go through any of this. Yet, here it is.

Mom will have to come to grips with an entirely new phase of her life.

Then again, so will I.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at

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