It’s never an easy thing to spend time visiting someone in a continuing care facility, though I have to admit the place in Arizona where my mom spent the last year and a half of her life was pretty close to a five-star resort–and therefore, actually a lovely place to visit. For example, the spacious marble-floored halls on the main level were adorned with works of art fit for fine museums. Holiday brunch was a dress-to-the-nines affair and the food was fantastic. On one visit I got to swim in one of two large saltwater pools. At this “convent” as my mother would inexplicably call it, there was even a beautiful, fully stocked bar –resort-worthy–where residents could enjoy evening–or, more accurately, early afternoon, libations. In a grand ball-room, monthly entertainment featured chorale and quartet performances as well as guest speakers, solo musicians, dancers, poets, authors…basically, all sorts of talented, top-notch performers.
Alas, five-star living is not in the cards for Rocket-man’s mother who is now in a memory care unit for dementia. The facility is in a small country community outside of Pittsburgh. I won’t name names, but apparently the company boasts the following on their website: “Proud recipient of the 2018 Best of Senior Living Award from SeniorAdvisor.com the largest ratings and reviews site for senior care and services in North America. To qualify for this award, you must be the best of the best in senior care, based on online reviews written by seniors and their families.”
Without going into details, let’s just say I disagree.
Okay…I will admit that is not altogether fair to compare the two care facilities; it’s an apples and oranges kind of thing. But I also base my Opine on the fact that I worked as a marketing assistant in a continuing care facility some years ago and while it wasn’t five-star resort worthy it was, hands down, a far better place than the halls I walked through just days ago.
Sigh…How I wish money wasn’t an issue; it would have been lovely to give this woman brighter surroundings. The place where she is spending her final years is exceedingly depressing, nowhere near the grandeur that my mother was fortunate to have lived in even for a short time. The fact that my mother constantly griped about “her circumstances” made my head spin at the time, and this…my third visit to see my mother-in-law in such dismal place, makes it spin once again…
I know, I know. I must let it go….
So….The plan was to spend an overnight in a nearby hotel so that we could have as much holiday time with mom as possible. Unfortunately weather would throw a monkey wrench into our plans as snow was indicated for our drive into the Allegheny mountains. We’d been tracking the weather reports for Pennsylvania for a week and things were looking pretty certain for a lovely white Christmas in hubby’s home town. Given that the weather guys often miss the mark my sis–who would watch The Poodle for the night– seemed puzzled that we were adjusting our visiting plans due to possible inclement weather. I understood where she was coming from; she, like me, didn’t want a family member in a nursing home to be forgotten about during the holidays.
“We’re not spring chickens anymore,” I told her. “We don’t think it’s safe for us to make the five-hour drive (one way) navigating through freezing rain and snow in the mountains and on the forever-being-worked-on Pennsylvania Turnpike.” So the original plan was scrapped and instead we made it an up and back trip–all in one day, in order to beat snow that was forecasted for the following day. We didn’t quite succeed in beating freezing rain and yes…we got to see a bit of the white stuff while traveling through the mountains which actually made us feel festive through the heaviness of our purpose.
Although quantity of time was an issue, quality was not. Ever mindful of how invisible most senior folks often feel, I was determined to make an effort to connect with every resident I encountered during our brief visit. In the dining room where some folks sat slouched in their chairs (or wheelchairs) over a lunch that looked thoroughly unappetizing, I mingled with as many folks as I could. I sat with Naomi, whose lips were painted a bright cheerful red, and her table-mate Tiki, who spoke in barely a mumble, listening to their stories. I shook hands with “George” who sported a Korean War baseball cap and I thanked him for his service. He talked about a boy (his son?), rambling on quite a bit but there was such a delightful twinkle in his eyes that I happily stayed at his table for a spell. I mingled with other residents too as Rocket-man continued sitting with his mother…he struggling to have a good conversation and she, unaware, confused… but poignantly resigned that there was nothing remotely to be excited about on this day, or any day for that matter. And though I took issue with certain things I saw during my visit–like a resident slouched in sleep in her wheelchair that was parked in the middle of the hallway for much too long–my heart swelled at the sight of one staff member sitting on the edge of a single bed reading a letter from a family member to a resident whose deeply wrinkled face was peaceful and his frame withered to a feather-light whisper…
We will all be there…
So kind readers, I will admit that I’ve never been able to feel a close connection with my mother-in-law. It’s just the way it has always been. But her sad resignation during a moment of her crystal-clear thinking made my heart immensely sad for her. I know too that Rocket-man felt enormously guilty about such a short visit just two days before Christmas.
How blunt are all the arrows of thy quiver in comparison with those of guilt.
– Robert Blair
We did our very best to spread cheer. I spent time rearranging items in her room after she unwrapped gifts. I had to grit my teeth over all the layers of dust on furniture and the general disarray and clutter that we encountered in her room. I gave Rocket-man “the look”…as in, nearly $4k a month and this!? I knew from the set of his jaw that he’d be talking, once again, to the facility director.
And, yes, I simply could not hold back my unsolicited opinion about Rocket-man’s younger sister who lives less than three miles away from where her mother now resides. Honestly, I tried to zip my lip with Rocket-man but I couldn’t help the anger that escaped as I fussed over setting things better in the small room.
“Without hesitation, you’ve done all the hard stuff,” I said in a hushed whisper while his mother was in the bathroom. “…and from hundreds of miles away. Your sister has the easy part now–it could be as simple as short visits a couple of times a week to check in on mom and make sure things are being properly taken care of here in her room. Yet she cannot seem to put her ego aside long enough to manage that,” I seethed.
Let it go….let it go. I breathed. Of course, my anger will not help my husband’s head.
Suffice it so say said sister is a grand disappointment though that doesn’t sufficiently convey my feelings. Family dynamics can be awfully messy to be sure, but when the chips fall, elderly parents in their declining years should not have to be subjected to neglect and abandonment. Kick family baggage to the closet, I say! In the end we must take the higher road. Follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
As the year draws to a close and a new one begins with hope and promise, consider a resolution to add to the list: If you have a friend or relative in a nursing home set aside even an hour once or twice a month to visit them. Understandably, that might not be feasible due to distance or the mess of life, so send flowers or small care packages. Write a letter and ask that a staff member read it out aloud. I can tell you that witnessing that simple act of kindness was a huge relief to me; somehow, it gave me a sense of peace and hope for my future.
No….it is not fun to visit anyone in a nursing home, particularly as it forces one to face mortality. And no, it is not easy especially if family histories were fraught with difficulty and conflict …
But simply think about that Golden Rule. How do you want to be treated during your final years? Whether you are fortunate enough to be in your own home or must call a care facility your final home, I’d posit that you–like me–would want to be treated with loving kindness and the simple act of attention.
Through thick and thin and everything in between, wishing you and yours Bliss in the new year.
Mother and son