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An unexpected gift from a nursing home visit

Posted Mar 05 2010 12:00am

Last week I flew to Massachusetts to visit my 87 (almost 88) year-old mother.  She had been moved to a nursing home last fall and this was my first visit with her in her new digs.  

Accompanied by my husband and son, we drove out of the city of Boston, where we were staying, to a small town about an hour south of the vibrancy of Boston.  I was a bit apprehensive, my mother had loved her apartment and independent living and we had a routine when visiting.  We would take her out to lunch, cook good food, play Scrabble, catch up and had other activities to keep us busy and helpful.  It felt as if we were entering an abyss of "How the heck can we make this visit meaningful, not to mention keep up conversation for an entire day'"?  Because it had been a year since my last in person visit, I  felt a certain responsibility to make the visit "a good one for her", whatever that means.

When we arrived she was sleeping in her wheel chair, her book upside down on her tray table.  I gently woke her and was immediately greeted by a big smile and "What took you so long?"  DOOIIINNNG!! My personal guilt-o-meter needle registered on the highest setting imaginable and sent my brain scrambling for a way to respond.  Once this initial greeting dance reached it's end, we settled in for a very nice visit.  My son, husband and I tagged-teamed interacting with her, so that none of us felt the burden of filling up the "Damn, I am ending my days in a nursing home loneliness well".  It's true that is a pretty good projection on my part, but knowing my mum as I do, I think there is a kernel of truth to it. 

We took her for a walk, pushing her wheel chair around the nursing home, much like, I imagine, she pushed my baby stroller around the streets of Boston, when I was young. We played Scrabble in the day room and  got excited when she proudly announced she had made the word 'infinity'.  We congratulated her and looked at her tiles to find the word 'guard' instead.  It felt sad to acknowledge that the Scrabble Queen had lost her crown.  It is humbling to acknowledge that the only way to beat my mum at Scrabble is to wait until she is 86, in a nursing home and having cognitive deficits.

Also, in the day room, a wonderful occupational therapist was helping a group of elderly women make chocolate pudding pies for the next day, fold baby clothes to donate to a shelter, and play a game of Olympics.  One of the 'medal winners' had dressed in a skirt suit for the festivities, looking very smart. She won three medals.

Relieved and reassured by the kindness of the staff, I was also struck by the perseverance of everyone, staff and residents alike. defines perseverance as  "A steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc." It was clear that perseverance is a staple of the elderly.

On the ride home, in the pouring rain with my son driving like any 'good Massachusetts driver', I distracted myself from the frightfulness of his NASCAR driving with musings on the beauty and poignancy of the perseverance of life and perseverance of relationships. The images I now carried of seniors in wheelchairs babbling incoherently, of the seniors who dress up and put on make-up as if they are going to work, of the kindness of staff, of my mum's love of reading, of the doggedness of family relationships, of the sweet caring my mum expressed towards all of us, filled my heart with warmth, a bittersweet sorrow and a curiosity of where my perseverance has taken me and where it will continue to take me.

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