, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

You Ain’t Nothing But A Groundhog?

Margot Schwenk, November 2017

“What is the name of that singer I really liked?” mom asked me, sitting across the booth from me at her ‘second home’ at Vieux Chateau in Hawkesbury, ON. “You know, the guy who sang, ‘You ain’t nothing but a groundhog?’

How interesting that mom would ask that question, with the mistaken groundhog instead of the actual hound-dog from the song she so loved by Elvis Presley, since my brother and I had recently discussed how life with mom is sort of like the movie Groundhog Day.

Two years ago, mine and Mike’s dad, and mom’s husband of 56 years passed away. Mom hasn’t been the same since. How can someone go on when their husband, whom they have spent more than half their life with, is suddenly gone.

It hasn’t been easy for mom, or for us kids who are witnesses to the profound sadness that saturates mom’s reality. And just recently mom has also had to give up driving and leave the home that she and dad built together to move into a retirement home.

Getting old sucks!

We try to tell ourselves otherwise to make ourselves feel better, but it’s a shit show of giving up independence and autonomy. Sure, one can still find joy in moments and be grateful for what remains, but as in the case of mom, that takes a great deal of re-focusing and determination.

You see, mom isn’t who she once was. She has become very forgetful and displays signs of dementia, and she knows it. Imagine if half your brain was breaking down, and the other half was fully aware of it. It can’t be easy for her. And she is different. She’s not the mom we knew. But the new Margot is beautiful. She’s compassionate. She is concerned about the future of, and misses, her family immensely.

During my one-week visit, I watched mom reach out to others who are struggling, doling out hugs, taking the arm of a woman who has pain when she walks. Mom is fierce in her efforts to help and protect others, because she knows firsthand what it means to feel helpless. She is beautifully compassionate when she hugs and cries with those who are hurting. And although she doesn’t feel it, she is brave, emotionally connected and a light in the darkness.

It’s not been easy for us, her kids, because we are heartbroken with the cards that life has dealt mom. We feel guilty because we can’t spend as much time as we would like with her. And yet, we are so proud of her and so in awe of her ability to FEEL the moment and experience it in the moment.

I don’t mind so much when she cries, because that is RAW honesty, and it passes. She feels it. Accepts it. And moves on. I guess the hardest part is when she panics, when she feels that she screwed up in someway, when the chaotic thoughts in her head send her into a tailspin. Thankfully, these episodes seem to be less, now that she gets her medication dispensed by a nurse at the correct times.

Don’t misread me. It’s not all gloom and doom. Mom’s only been in her new home for a month. She needs time to mourn what’s she’s lost, and grow accustomed to her new surroundings. We do have high hopes of a meaningful quality of life experience for her moving forward. We look forward to a possible trip with the whole family to Germany, mom’s homeland, and we look forward to a June wedding between my daughter and her fiancé.

But I don’t think we are fully off the hook. Individually, and as a society, we need to take a long, hard look at how we treat the elderly. How do we make sure that there is still “life” in their lives? How do we create an environment where joy can exist? How do we move away from ‘doing everything’ for them to ‘helping them find their new purpose?’ How do we move away from the warehousing of elderly people, to an integrated model of all society that includes children and all ages? And how do we keep the conversation going until we find it?

Getting old sucks, but it doesn’t have to…

Check out the amazing results that happened after this cool 6 week experiment.


Mom lives at Place Mont Roc now; a wonderful place, run by wonderful people, helping wonderful people. Their kindness is amazing and it’s a great foundation on which to build what we can further do to respect and keep the dignity of our seniors; our moms and dads.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.