One day I passed an elderly lady sitting in a wheelchair outside her room … Our eyes met, and I said “Hi.” She returned the most beautiful smile.
A decade ago Mrs. R. belonged to a most collegial bridge group of eight ladies — two tables. They played every Thursday at one of the member’s homes. The ladies were all in their seventies, and as will happen to people of that age, sometimes one of them would be forgetful.
“What’s trump?” that person would say.
“Clubs, Doris,” another would respond, sometimes sarcastically.
The others would hold their tongues, knowing that at one time or another each of them had forgotten what was trump … or where bridge was next week, or who needed a ride or whatever.
“Do you suppose years from now we’ll be playing at the “home?” Sally was fond of saying. When she or any of the others said the word “home,” they held the letter “m’ for an exaggerated period of time. It was their way of distinguishing home as a place where we all grew up from hommmme, a place where we go to spend our final years.
Eventually one of their number did go to a hommmme. Her children insisted on it — the woman had memory problems and the children worried about her driving. (“Be nice to your kids,” goes an old saying. “They’re the ones who will choose your nursing home.”) Fortunately she was able to afford a small suite in a comfortable place. Mrs. R visited her early in her stay, and found the lodgings quite pleasant.
Timed passed, and eventually the lady descended into a state of not knowing who was visiting or where she was. Several years ago she passed away.
Mrs. R. recently spent some time in a hommmme — a skilled nursing facility where she was undergoing an extensive period of therapy. It wouldn’t have been our first choice of facilities, but it did specialize in the treatment she needed. The staff was generally congenial and helpful though clearly overworked. The place was eighteen miles from our home, but an easy drive because most of it was on a toll road which had far less traffic than our notorious Southern California freeways.
If you have spent time in a hommmme, either as a patient or a visitor, you know that the romanticized vision the bridge ladies had of the place was not reality. To be sure, there are people like Mrs. R. who are there for a temporary therapeutic stay and who have all their faculties and a healthy attitude. There are others, sadly, who are in various stages of deterioration. Some will never leave the hommmme alive. There are younger ones, crippled by stroke, who can barely move a finger or turn their head. These are people who once played vigorous games of baseball and danced and who on vacations went walking through storied towns and landmarks. All of that is now a still photo in their rear view mirror.
One day I passed an elderly lady sitting in a wheelchair outside her room. Actually she sat there most days. Our eyes met, and I said “Hi.” She returned the most beautiful smile. In fact she did so every day that I walked by her. But I don’t believe she could speak.
I saw some of the most caring relatives and friends visiting there. Alas not nearly every patient enjoyed such devotion.
If there is a color for the hommmme it is gray. If there is background music, it is Mozart’s Requiem in D. If you have a loved one there, you go to visit, regardless, because the person is a loved one. If it’s someone with less of an emotional attachment, a person may visit at first a few times, then less as time goes on. And finally not at all.
Don’t let that happen.
I believe it was Bobby Kennedy who said, “Let us never be guilty of the good deeds we failed to do.”