What If Today…We Remembered When?

I slide out of the car reflecting on how much I love my mom. I just spent a couple of hours with her and her books and her wisdom. She makes me feel alive . Every time. Never fails. I wasn’t sure I had the energy or time to see my dad, but that’s where my car ended up, so here I am.

The parking lot is always so quiet. So is the foyer that houses beautiful furniture that is admired more than used.

I think the floor in the elevator is new. But #2 is still the button I push when I want to see my dad.

The doors open to the same smells coming from the Common Room across from the elevator. Animated staff talk to the air hoping to revive the residents who have been rolled to sit at the table in the center of the room.

They slump and snore and stare into space. I’m pretty sure I would do the same.

I search for souls behind the eyes.

My dad’s old roomie babbles something to me as I wave and say hi. I think he asked how are you?

They told my dad he was dead. Makes me laugh whenever I think about it. For a guy who has a very hard time communicating he made sure they understood that he needed to be moved to another room. My dad’s a lot of fun!

I pass a few more people in wheelchairs and staff on the phone at the nurses station. Nobody has time to talk.

“Bets? Is that you?” I shuffle around the man planted in front of the sink in a wheelchair and around the curtain to my dad.

Pizza is the topic of the day today.

“You share pizza with the guy next door? And you send some to the woman across the hall, too? Dad, you never get out of bed. How do you know them? Do they come to your room to visit?”

“No.”

“Then how do you know they like pizza?”

“I listen through the walls. And if I have too much I tell the nurse to send them a piece. They love it.”

This place is teaming with life. A different kind of life. I love it here.

I shake hands with Charles, Dad’s new roomie on my way out and wonder how long he’ll last. My dad already told me he didn’t like him. I guess you have to live on the other side of the wall or corridor to be an approved member of the exclusive Steve’s Pizza club.

I look across the hall and try to get a glimpse of my dad’s pizza-sharing woman friend. She’s sleeping.

The nurse’s station is still busy doing stuff, and the guy I passed on the way in is doing his darndest trying not to fall asleep again.

I back into the elevator and look across at the men and women in wheelchairs who had families, homes, and gardens, pets, and jobs once upon a time. But nobody talks to them about those things. They prop them up to play Bingo instead.

Most people I’ve talked to feel sadness at nursing homes.

Me? My heart smiles as I think about my captive audience.

This is my playground. Bodies and (sometimes) minds have deteriorated significantly so that all that remains is the purest essence of the person.

All they can do is talk. And they love to talk about themselves!

I want to hear about their lives, how they spent their time on earth. I want to listen to love stories and watch them get that far away look in their eyes and then wait for them to unwind a confusing thought that leaves them at a dead end.

I want to hear them giggle and see them laugh as I stare long enough to smooth out wizened faces, revealing who they “really” are and how they still see themselves even though they rarely look in mirrors any more.

I want another day to spend with them because “remembering when” is what we’re left with as storms are approaching that make us reflect on the peace we’ve unknowingly taken for granted.

Sandy will move in some time tonight. I’m happy and at peace. I went to talk to my parents today. I feel more alive than I’ve been in a while.

How do you feel when you visit or think about nursing homes or old people?

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9 thoughts on “What If Today…We Remembered When?

  1. I feel the same way you do but, wish i saw more family members visiting there family.i love the stories they tell of their lives it gives them joy to be able to share a piece of their history to someone who really listens, and might learn something from it and pass it on.i love the way you write Betsy, you are amazing!

    • Alicia, I know I could visit more often. Whenever I go I feel an indescribable joy. I have no expectation that anyone will get up and dance or even miss me. Some hardly remember me even though we’ve talked! It struck me yesterday that it’s supposed to be that way. And then the “Remember When” song came on the radio…it got me so wistful!

  2. Betsy you’d be a natural to work at one! I did..a private pay only 12 beds in a gorgeous old Farm House that was re-done to be a “retirement” home. Never call it a nursing or old peoples home! One gal owned and ran it. It was an Awesome place to work..Everything you said is so true. If a worker didn’t have that type of attitude..well they didn’t get hired or if they did, they didn’t last long!
    I heard so many fun stories from the residents.and the tricks they played on us..LOL…I should have written them down! Oh and they LOVED music..so there was always music playing! Ever dance with a 90 plus year old in a wheelchair? Fun memories..everyone became family to us

    As Always ~*~

    • Ann, I thought of you yesterday on my way out. My heart was so happy (that happens to tell you that you’re doing your life’s work I think) and I thought, “Ann and I…we’d have fun!” It never bores me. I’m still learning about what it means to be old. They reach their limit so quickly, even when just talking. I’d resisted going because I was almost comatose after church. But my mom woke me up and guilt (sorry to say) drove me to see my dad. What a blessing I received. He made me laugh with his pizza stories.
      Thanks, Ann!!

      • Big Smile…Yes we’d have fun…lol..and so would they! So glad you went, enjoyed and had a blessed, fun visit! Your Dad sounds just like one of those real characters that we’d have a riot with! Those are the memories that stay with you always! How cool it is your writing them down..your wee ones will read sometime when they are older and know their Gramps through your words!

  3. Remember When is one of my favorite songs. I know what you mean about retirement homes. When you walk around you encounter people who don’t care about pretense anymore. They say what they think and share things they might not have ever said before.

    There are stories just waiting to be shared and told.

    • I wonder what it be like to have people walk in unannounced at all times of day? I sometimes wake my dad up when he has just fallen asleep. But he’s so welcoming and patient. I wonder how he feels having a conversation with his hair unruly and his face not shaved? What does that kind of stuff do to a person

  4. Great story; at one time, my mother, grandmother and an uncle were all in the same nursing home. The visits were always interesting.

    If you really want to be amused, in my mother’s last days they called and said we should probably come because they didn’t think she would make it through the night. We stayed the night and you the stuff that goes on after hours you could make a movie about. Walking down the hallway I saw someone’s denture in the railing on the wall.

    She was with us 2 more months after that, but it brought me and my sisters together for a time to reflect.

    There is so much history in these homes if you just take the time to listen. But we are all so busy, right? What a shame….

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