My mother is not happy. She is in the middle of this world and the next. Dementia seeps in and spreads quickly. There are many simple things, some of them basic hygienic practises, my mother can no longer do. She needs the regular care of others to help her in her daily tasks.
Brookdale is a good place. The people who work there show a great deal of compassion and care. They seem to genuinely like my mother. It’s the best we can do. And my mother is not happy. Mom puts up with the people in her midst. She is trying to fit in quietly.
“What’s your name, young lady?” That’s Georgia. Georgia has Alzheimer’s. Her eyes barely move. She seems to be looking at the same thing all the time. Her head moves but her eyeballs stay constant. Georgia smiles a lot though, especially when she looks across the table.
“That’s my husband”, she says. “He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. We’ve been married for 63 years”
I look inquisitively at the man sitting next to my mom at the lunch table. The same people eat their meals together regularly. This is my first visit. I am meeting them for the first time.
“63 years!”, I exclaim. “Wow” that’s amazing!”
“Yes” says Harvey, “We’ve been together for 65 years. I live upstairs. I come down every day to have lunch with Georgia and to make sure she’s getting whatever she needs. We moved here from Arizona a few years ago to be near our children. We moved in to one of the apartments upstairs. Now Georgia needs to be down here, but we get to see each other every day.”
“Yep” says Georgia. “We met 65 years ago. He just walked in to my brother in law’s gas station and we’ve been together ever since. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me. “
“That’s true”, Harvey pipes in. “It was a real gasser” He’s obviously used that joke before.
Constance sits across the table from me. She too, seems a bit disoriented. I watch her turn her head to look straight at Georgia. Her hand slowly crawls “I love you.” She says clearly. “I would love you even more if you loved me too. Give me your hand.” Georgia ignores her. Constance continues to stare.
I slowly slide my hand across the table. “I’ll hold your hand.” I say. Constance shifts her eyes from Georgia to me. She smiles gently. She thinks briefly and then switches her hand from Georgia’s direction into mine. Her eyes close just a touch and she says, “Hmmm, that feels so good. You feel so warm.” We sit holding hands for several minutes massaging each other’s palms and warmly moving our hands around one another.
The man sitting at the end of the table is called Ben. Ben never speaks with his voice. Everything Ben says happens with his eye gestures and the nature of his smile. Today, Ben is happy. His toothless smiles shows contentment with each bite of the hamburger he munches. Ben smiles and winks at me, a stranger. I am a friendly face sitting at his table.
Mom doesn’t want to talk to anyone. I am acutely aware of the stories that will never be told. Nobody seems to care about the stories. Nursing homes are necessary places in this society in which we live. I am uncomfortable.
As warm and compassionate and loving as the staff might be, they are still strangers to my mom. I wish I could take her home and be there for her on a daily basis. I know she is comforted when we hug together or when, while lying on her bed we lie side by side as two spoons in a drawer.
It will take a few generations to get us back to caring for our parents. It won’t happen in my lifetime. But if I plant a seed in my grandchildren’s soul, it is possible that they might nurture it and help it grow.
For now, I am comforted by the fact that (at least) my two oldest boys know that, whatever they choose to do about me better be pretty nice because they are not long after me.