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The Power of Sophie

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Somewhere between a Tuesday and a Friday my mom (formally free-spirited, happy-go-lucky and a very feisty 86) lost her zest for life. I always assumed that if it happened (which I never thought it would ) it would be a gradual process with warning signs and subtle changes; things I could respond to.

But no, in this case my mother retired to her couch late one afternoon and created a safe little cocoon to nest in.

On came the "when I'm feeling under the weather" robe and the wooly socks to match.

Immediately gone from her routine were the daily jaunts on the little jitney to her favorite corner grocery where the produce and dairy managers greeted her by name.

Pots and pans sparkled from lack of use in the dish rack and Judy Garland stopped singing about a rainbow on the mini CD player.

Books sat piled on the coffee table minus dog-ears and there was one less guesser each evening during the 'Final Jeopardy' round.

The phone company would not be too delighted with what I was sure would be a lighter bill now that conversations were mostly one-way in nature.

Once medical problems were ruled out as the root cause for "the change" as I referred to my mom's condition, it was time for a new avenue of exploration.

I stepped in to do the exploring because I struggled with seeing my mother struggle, because I missed who
we were together and because for better or worse I had gone to school to study counseling and therapy so that I could help people when they were hurting. Perhaps I wasn't the best person for the job professionally speaking but this was my mother and I was determined to find an answer.

I pursued her ruthlessly, relentlessly day and night for days, questioning, prodding, pushing and probably annoying. And then one day, the breakthrough…

"My friend Dottie just passed away and last week it was Nina. Yesterday Ceil was put in a nursing home. If this is what I have to look forward to then it's really not worth it."

I responded like a daughter rather than the trained therapist I was and said all the wrong things.


"Come on, Ma. You just have to force yourself to get back into your old routine. Once you do you'll feel so much better."

And there she remained as stationaray as the decorator pillows properly fluffed behind her back.

Meals posed a new challenge like trying to coax a 3-year old into trying broccoli. I became a pseudo "Food Network Star" overnight combining ingredients and food groups, overhauling favorite recipes in an attempt to make some food, any food seem appealing.

I was losing the battle and I was losing my mom.

I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep and the couch I shared at home with my husband Stu became my refuge.

Enter 'Sophie' the 101-year old woman living a full and independent life.

I mentioned learning about our new neighbor's mother Sophie while cajoling my mom into looking through some photo albums of her grandchildren and great-children. After all, what could possibly have a more positive affect on her outlook then to learn that she was 'youthful' in comparison to this new-found very senior senior.

My mom glanced up from the album, looked back down then back up at me.
"Your neighbor's mother is 101 and she lives by herself?" she asked increduously.

"Yup, that's right. And guess what? She also bowls on a weekly senior league and every month takes the bus to Atlantic City for a day of gambling. Her children are 82 and 83. Your contemporaries!"

I definitely had captured my mom's attention.

"Where does she live?"

"You know mom, I'm not sure. I'll have to find out and let you know."

My mother was shaking her head.

"She bowls? I can't believe it! She must be in amazing shape, not like me."

"Not really," I heard myself say.

"I'm told she moves like a turtle, has a cane, often uses a walker and has a portable oxygen tank. She suffers from COPD and has poor circulation. But nonetheless she refuses to allow any of it to stop her from living."

I kissed my mom goodnight.

I wanted Sophie to sink in.

The following morning our phone call was more animated than it had been in weeks.

"I still can't get over that your neighbor's mother is 101 and she lives all by herself!"

"I hear that she's a real whipper-snapper too," I chimed in.
"My neighbor tells me that she disappeared one Saturday without notifying any of her children about her whereabouts. They were frantic for hours. Apparently Sophie had read an article about a casino opening up in Yonkers and she purchased a bus ticket to go check it out. She didn't tell anyone because she did not want a lecture on how not to spend her money."

I think I heard my mother giggle.

In the days that followed my mom showed an ever-increasing interest in Sophie's exploits.

One day I mentioned that Sophie had an 89-year old boy toy that helped with the gardening.

I know I heard my mother laugh.

The following Saturday my mother called to inform me that she was taking the bus to Yonkers with the seniors in her development. She didn't want me to worry.

"If Sohpie can do it, so can I!"

That became her mantra.

And Sophie bless her heart became somewhat of a long-distance cheerleader and the best role model I could ever hopeto find.

One evening my mom expressed curiosity about Sophie's appearnce.

"She mustbe very wrinkly and pruney" she mused.

"Beyond so" I said. "But she puts on make-up every morning like a star."

"I'd love to meet her" said mom.

"Well I finally found out that she lives in Tarrytown and rarely comes out this way. But who knows. Maybe someday we can make arrangements for the two of you to meet."

"I'm still trying to picture what she looks like. If I'm 86 it's hard to imagine 101."

The following week I cut out a picture from the obituaries of a 97-year old woman and presented it to my mother.

"Ma, Sophie had a write-up done in her local paper about her volunteer work with seniors. They included a picture with the piece."

My mom scotch-taped Sophie to the refrigerator.

She never did mention what she thought of Sophie's appearance but if I had to guess I think in comparison my mom felt a bit like Sophia Loren.

We had lunch together that weekend, my mom and me at our favorite littleItalian restaurant by the water. Mom had to blot her lipstick many times that day as sauce happily trickled down her mouth.

Two years after Sophieentered our lives my mom was diagnosed with aggressive cancer. Before it ever had a chance to knock her down she left quietly and contentedly, a complete life fully realized.

I'd thank Sophie in person for her amazing impact but she lives only in my imagination.

My husband refers to Sophie as my therapeutic lie.

I refer to her as a lifesaver. Nothing short of my hero.

Sophie's positive outlook on life restored my mother's (something I was unable to do).

I guess if my mom had lived longer I would eventually have had to let Sophie go. Maybe her demise would have taken place around 104 just to keep things somewhat realistic.

Then again, every one could use a Sophie in their life at some point in time.

I think I'll keep her around a little while longer just in case…

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