It’s been a busy couple of months for the Outlaw Mary Jane. She planted tulips, joined a dancercise class, worked with a personal trainer, mentored a stroke victim, organized a poetry reading, joined a book club, accepted a trivia challenge, hosted several parties and crafted roughly 36 ceramic figurines.
She has danced so gracefully from homeowner to assisted living resident that her growing legion of admirers — including her giant family, widening circle of friends, and grateful caregivers — regularly stand and say, “Brava!”
Loathe to give advice directly, she will chat amiably with a note-taking daughter in-law. What follows are eight (her luck number) tips for a happy transition into assisted living, courtesy of my mother in-law.
1) Choose carefully. Armed with a checklist they created together, Mary Jane and her daughter Elaine toured and scored several placed before they selected her current residence. “Grumpy people were a red flag,” Mary Jane said. “If the people we talked to weren’t excited about a place, we couldn’t get excited either.”
2) Appreciate your family. “I have such a wonderful family that it’s been easy for me to get through,” she said. “I was skeptical at first. You don’t live 41 years in a house and leave it easily. But all of my children have been a great help. We didn’t have any squabbling. Everyone just pitched in and helped out.”
3) Let go. “Sometimes the memory is even better than the thing,” she said. “You aren’t going to be able to take everything with you, but you can keep all of your wonderful memories.”
4) Be kind. “I realized that how you treat people is how they treat you,” she said. “I decided I wanted to be Miss Congeniality. I introduce myself to every new person I see and I try to say something nice to them. I get involved in their personal lives as well. If someone is struggling with something, we pray for them. You don’t have to be Catholic to pray.”
5) Be positive. “I think this long winter has really helped, because I didn’t have to worry about the snow,” she said. “It didn’t bother me at all because I would get up in the morning and see what the schedule was and go to whatever activities I could. I didn’t have to worry about shoveling snow or bundling up. There’s a bus that takes me to church on Sundays and to other outings as well.”
6) Don’t talk politics. “I made an elephant in ceramics and this man said, ‘Is that a Republican?’ and I said, ‘Well, I made a llama too.’ I’m still a Republican but I don’t feel like I have to talk about it here.”
7) Laugh. “Certain people can be kind of crabby and I take that as kind of a challenge,” she said. “I guess I’m trying to take over for (my husband) Vince. He would always make something humorous.”
8) Pace yourself. “Sleep is my best medicine,” she said. “If I get overtired I feel like I might come down with something. I get up early, so sometimes I like to take a nap.”
Tomorrow, Mary Jane will celebrate her 83rd birthday. A self-described plant killer, she is currently nursing a bowl of tulip bulbs that, I think, serves as a metaphor for her new life.
“I do not have a green thumb, but my yellow tulip is blooming,” she said. “I’m learning. You mess around in the dirt a little, water it and rotate it toward the sun.”