Missing Mom

Dear Jo:

I miss my Mom and the relationship we had so much.  It seems like we can’t have a real conversation about anything any more.  It is so difficult to visit.  I don’t know what to say or do, so sometimes I just don’t visit her.  Afterwards I feel so guilty! Is there a way to have enjoyable visits?


Missing Mom


Dear Missing Mom,

There are lots of ways to have enjoyable visits!  True enough, it takes some change in your language – and some practice.  Absolute number five says: Never Say “Remember,” Instead Reminisce.  This will help you with visits. 


Your mom will remember the past very well, and will like to talk about it.  The most important thing to practice when you initiate these conversations is to try not to use the word “remember,” and start sort of in the middle of the sentence.  With my Mom I would say something like, “When I was little and you were out milking the cows, you would ask me to listen for the phone.  I always answered whenever it rang.  Sometimes our neighbor Mrs. Kippes would get really mad at me, because it was her ring and not ours!” With that, Mom would just light up and start talking about the farm, milking and even about the neighbors.  She would continue talking and we would both enjoy our visit. 


Too often, we caregivers try to visit by asking direct questions, and when they don’t know the answers, they don’t know what to say! They may make something up, and we may become concerned that they aren’t telling the truth.  We often confront them about how we remember that particular instance. This can result in arguing, reasoning, shaming or even lecturing, and so the visit becomes difficult for both of us.


Each of these first five Absolutes are about communication, and remember, they are all interchangeable.  We just need to shift our focus on enjoying our time together, not on establishing facts about things that probably aren’t really that important anyway.

The Art of Being…98

Dale Chatfield Creating Landscape Art
Dale Chatfield Creating Landscape Art

“What in the world is that man doing?!” I asked attorney Zach Hesselbaum. It was a perfect summer afternoon and we had just left a client’s home at Alden of Waterford.  We could see a man creating something with homemade tools in an undeveloped area across from the residences.  We just had to get to know this man who, it turned out, was a pro at creating “landscape art”.

Dale Chatfield is a man of simple and powerful virtues.  His initiative, integrity, and personality have drawn people to him, and then he has enriched their lives.  Zach and I spoke with Dale and his charming wife Doris.  They have been married 70 years.

Dale was born October 10, 1911 in the central Nebraska plains.  He told us, “I grew up on the farm, and when I was a young man it seemed like I knew all the girls in Nebraska—but none of them were right for me!  It was The Great Depression, but I headed off to find my fortune in Denver.”  In Denver he lived frugally, studied accounting, and eventually got a job as an accountant for the Denver/Rio Grande Railway.  But Dale was never meant to just sit at a desk.  He is competitor, and is driven to always do more than what is expected.  Doris beamed and proudly told us, “Dale has spent his whole life going the extra mile.  We had a dry cleaning business for 32 years.  The business, called D&D Cleaners (for Dale and Doris), grew because my husband always gave extraordinary personal attention to each customer.  Even after people moved away from our neighborhood, they would drive back to have Dale do their cleaning.  People value that special personal attention.”

Even after retirement, Dale has kept on making life more fun for others.  From 1990 to 2005, he almost singlehandedly did the Christmas decorations and lights around their four-story senior residential center in Denver.  Doris told us, “He was the only one in the neighborhood who decorated all four sides of their building!  Everybody else just did the front.  You know, he climbed up and down those tall ladders even when he got to be 92.”

If you want to talk about playing horseshoes, Dale is your man.  He is a champion horseshoe player.  He played in a senior league that included 40 players.  During ten seasons, Dale was champion five years.  Leaving Denver and moving to Chicago in 2005, his biggest disappointment has been that he can no longer find anyone who wants to play horseshoes.  “They all say they have a bad back or a bad arm.  I can’t find anyone who will play with me.”

I asked Dale if he could provide me with some of his keys to a long and successful life.  He gave me a handwritten note that reads as follows:

  1. God, parents, wife, and kids
  2. Creator, genes, diet, exercise
  3. Husband and wife 50/50; don’t let the sun set on your anger.
  4. Honesty (don’t even take tax deductions if they are iffy)
  5. Eat well but nothing fancy (oatmeal with raisins every day and good farm food)

Dale is a wonderful life model for the art of being—and living as—a very successful man.

Dale and Doris Chatfield
Dale and Doris Chatfield

Never Lecture, Instead Reassure

Dear Jo:

It is so difficult to get anything done or to go anywhere!  I get Mom all dressed and ready to go, and while I am outside getting the car ready, she takes off her shoes – sometimes even her clothes!  I need to get her to the senior center every morning so I can get to work on time.  I get so frustrated that sometimes I yell at her!  That just leaves me feeling so guilty.


Jo Says:

I had this same problem with my Mother.  She just wasn’t aware of the importance of time, or my schedule. Absolute #4 says: Never Lecture, Instead Reassure.  It is an excellent reminder for this issue. 


When I had small children I would never have left them indoors to wait while I went to get the car! Of course it would have been easier, but it would have been extremely dangerous for my children.  The same principle works here.  What I had to accept was that I needed to keep Mom safe at all times, and that meant better planning on my part.  However, even with better planning, when I took her to the car with me, there were some days we just couldn’t get things in the right order and I would lose my patience.  When I became impatient, there were times I raised my voice.  Or instead, I would try not to show how irritated I was, but she always sensed something was wrong. 


When you are feeling annoyed and you want to lecture, the best thing to do is to apologize – even if you have done nothing wrong!  If you can honestly say something like, “I don’t know what is wrong with me. I must have gotten up on the wrong side of the bed!  Do you ever have days like that, Mom?” she is very likely to respond positively, and might even offer to assist.  This way, you can move forward in a positive and enjoyable manner.  The very act of admitting you’ve goofed changes your status, helps you to smile and laugh, and reassures your loved one that you are in this together.