The Chicks are thrilled to welcome Susan McCormick, author-slash-physician-slash-amazing human being.
Susan’s Fog Ladies series celebrates senior sleuths. She joins us today to talk about unexpected gifts in difficult times. Take it away, Susan!
My mom would have loved the COVID stay-at-home orders. An excuse to hole up with her murder mystery books and cooking shows. Stay on the couch. Eat what you want because you have to keep your spirits and nutrition up, and no one will see the results anyway. My mom is no longer with us, but she would have thrived in this strange time.
I spent so many dinners at my mother’s retirement community’s dinner table, listening to the ladies belt out showtunes like “Marian, the Librarian” from Music Man and being asked four times in sixty seconds to repeat my name. Like many of us sandwich generation kids, we spend more time with our parents now than we ever did when we were younger.
Those years after my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease were incredibly hard. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything. And the stories, the fun comments, the joy of living in the moment… We had to laugh. Much better than crying.
I learned the secret rules of never asking questions, but just stating facts to set my mom up for an easy conversation. “It’s chocolate shakes and spelling bee today. I love chocolate shakes.” Then my mom could reply, “I’m good at the spelling bee. I’m going to win the big chocolate bar.” I learned the rule of going with my mom’s mind wherever it went. When I made anise Christmas cookies from my fifty-year-dead great-grandma’s recipe, my mom said, “Did you make these yourself or are they leftover from Grandma?”
The day we moved my mom from independent living to assisted living, the hallway was lined with old ladies in chairs, watching our procession of furniture and boxes. My sons and I moved her early in the morning, the only elevator reservation time allotted us. When we were almost done, one of the ladies pronounced about my teenage son, sour-faced due to the early hour, “He doesn’t look like much, but he sure gets the job done.”
That same son was part of a classical guitar orchestra that played at the retirement community frequently. After a beautiful solo by their lead guitarist, one man shook his head and said, “He gets paid for this?” Another man shuffled to the front and said, “It doesn’t sound any better from up here.”
My mom, without her filter of gentility, could be just as brazen. Looking out a window over the highway, she said, “I keep looking at that highway, but nothing exciting ever happens. That tanker truck could explode. That would be exciting.” To the physical therapist who wanted her to exercise her weak legs: “Go away, will you? I just want to lie here and molder.” And when she saw a flyer for a missing cat, she looked at the street and said, “Hmm. They might find a flat, splat cat.”
She was the same person, though, deep down. The essence of her personality never wavered. She was generous her entire life, offering her stick shift car to my son to learn on without hesitation, forgetting that she hadn’t driven in ten years and had sold the car long ago. She loved our dog, an enormous, slobbery Newfoundland. She couldn’t remember that Albert had eaten her expensive cashmere sweater or her favorite red shoes. She just knew she loved Albert. She remained a good speller to the end and won the chocolate bar the week she died.
These special times with our elderly loved ones are full of joy and laughter. As my mom would say, “So much fun I can’t stand it. It’s enough to gag a maggot.”
I have more information about Alzheimer’s disease on my website https://susanmccormickbooks.com, as well as information on my book series The Fog Ladies featuring spunky senior sleuths with plenty of time on their hands to get into trouble.
Readers, Where do you find unexpected joy?
Susan McCormick is a writer and doctor who lives in Seattle. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University School of Medicine, with additional medical training in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Susan served as a doctor in the U.S. Army for nine years before moving to the Pacific Northwest. She writes The Fog Ladies San Francisco Cozy Murder Mystery series, in which most of the characters are over seventy. She also wrote Granny Can’t Remember Me, a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons, and, until recently, a giant Newfoundland dog, Albert.