They Are Not Gone

Visiting your parent in a nursing home is not for the faint-hearted. Add the restrictions…

I worked for several years as a C.N.A., and then as an Activity Director. I did home-health care a couple of times over the years. Back before all the rules. Back when you could care for someone without fear. I did it because I loved being with the elderly. I wanted to know them as a person, and be a part of their life. Even though it was the last part. The months and years that are not counted as being very important at times.

They are extremely important.

Just as important, and maybe more so than the first few years on this earth. Because people are stooped, wrinkled, and cranky, doesn’t mean that their soul is gone. Because they stare blankly, doesn’t mean their soul is vacant.

My mother went into the nursing home mid-September 2020. She had hip surgery, and then some rehabilitation. My father and I saw her for a doctor’s appointment the first part of November. We visited again on Saturday.

And it was heartbreaking.

Again, I’ve worked in healthcare. I know the routine. I know what the diagnosis entails. But seeing your parent in the situation somehow ties your hands behind your back, and you become an onlooker, stumbling along with all the rules.

And I really hate that!

My mother was a vibrant woman at one time.

She survived leukemia as a young woman with four small children. She struggled through more surgeries than I can count, suffered health problems for so many years. And she just kept going. We four children were told more than once to tell our young mother good-bye, because she may not be there when we awoke in the morning. We sat on her bed, a huge tank of oxygen standing guard in the corner as we held her thin, translucent hand, and begged God for her to be there in the morning.

And she was.

She learned to talk, walk, and play the piano once again when I was 12. Her memory was never the same, but she was there. She went on a campaign for our better health as well as hers. And we children dreaded every step of it. The green, sludgy drinks that did not taste like V-8. The hunks of stoneground wheat bread made from scratch, slabs of cheese with sprouts hanging out made our elementary school lunches a trial. We dreamed of fluffy sandwiches, pristine white and easy to chew. Then we could be like our classmates. My deodorant was lemon juice, and it worked for my face as well. At least that is what I was told. Toothpaste that tasted like baking soda, and shampoo that didn’t have suds were my companions until I reached legal age, and could purchase what was so prettily marketed.

But my better health, and no cavities at the age of 56, are my reward. And now an immense appreciation for what my mother did for her family in the areas of health.

And she is no longer there…most of the time.

Everyone that has had a parent in a nursing home has the same stories to share. Their parent’s were vital people as well. I always loved to hear the memories those over-middle-aged children had to share about their loved one. I wanted to know about those real people. Their accomplishments, their loves, their hobbies, and I wanted to see pictures. I wanted to know them as they were long ago. Before the years had taken a toll, before their mind had escaped to that far-away place we call Alzheimer’s and dementia. Because that person was still there…just watching from afar.

I never thought I would see the day that my mother, the woman that had escaped death so many times, would be sitting in a nursing home. Alone, sad, and afraid. And what I had done for so many others, I can not do for her at this time.

Life can be cruel.

My mother and me, Easter Sunday of 1965.