It is a subject I didn’t think I would give much thought and I certainly did not think one I would try to find words to express feelings. Yet it keeps stabbing at that place in my mind that says the best way to address the affects, is to write. So here I am writing a blog this cold morning about a former neighbor who is in a nursing home. Not because he wants to be there. I don’t think any of us do. In fact I am quite sure none of us want that. Yet he is there because he made a mistake with who he assigned as his medical power of attorney. He could have gone home and hopefully will soon.
What comes to mind though is my first visit to see him. It is at first blush a depressing place. Age can be that and when we are set aside away from friends, family to live out life with in the walls of a facility, it is a sad thing. That first visit was unsettling. There is little art, the walls are painted that, what that I call, apartment white. Not a pure white, not grey, not pink somehow a dingy white. Appears dirty before it is. That white. There is a rail much like a chair rail that extends from the entry and along all the hallway walls. It is so one can hold on or guide themselves back to their tiny drab room. It is painted a grey blue. Another dirty colour before it is dirty.
What art there is are collages of photos of special event days when family members come for that once in a while visit. For sure few of the residents can actually see the collages because those are placed too high on the wall and even with 20/20 vision a bit difficult to determine the actual face or purpose. The rooms are like small closets allowing only space for a single bed pushed against the wall…something I so dislike and find rather claustrophobic. A single chair sits in one corner and a small chest wide enough to hold a very small television that has been brought from home. One of those hospital rolling tables that causes one to trip over without even trying allows space for loose stuff and presents an obstacle for moving about in a wheel chair far too big for its occupant or the tiny room.
My neighbor keeps saying it is very depressing and it is. He could be home if only he had chosen differently. He is now capable of making his own decisions so hopefully will be home soon. He knows that so that adds to the observation that it is a depressing place. I have to wonder how many of these little communities exist all over the country, the world. Where behind the front doors, a small town exists. It citizens mostly grey haired with their head hanging in sadness. Some know, others do not. A woman moves about the halls in her wheel chair, holding a doll that has long ago been over played with and long ago lost all its apparel. Its bare cloth midsection exposed and showing the connection to the plastic arms, legs and head. She holds it with great care and talks gently to it as if telling her child the way of life. Walking past her one has to wonder her story and the heart sinks.
Another resident moves about in her wheel chair checking others room for things she feels she is missing. As she enters my neighbors room, she says she is looking for some things of her and I say to her perhaps there was not space in your room so those are still at your house. She says oh yes and leaves. How difficult it must be to leave your home and have but a dreary room to live your life with only a few essentials and nothing more.
There is a woman who lived in one of the loveliest homes in the village. She seems to have made the best of it and made a friend or two which I suppose is what happens. She wears her jewelry, lipstick and grooms herself as well as possible. She is the exception. She invited me to her room. I declined and only commented I bet it was a lovely room. I did not want to see because it would be heartbreaking to see how she perhaps tried to create a little world for herself within the grey world forgetting the walks along the tree lined street. The dinners and the games she played with friends.
One only hopes somewhere in these type of community there is a thread of dignity. Dignity and respect for a life lived perhaps with abandon. Perhaps will joy. Perhaps with great success. Perhaps with love. It doesn’t seem that way in this atmosphere however hopefully it exists. Hopefully the residents see beautiful art on the walls and feel a sense of safety. Comfort. Maybe peace. Hopefully too, they have visitors. Visitors who take them places. Visitors who care. How sad to think the visitors can leave and they can not. How sad to think they no longer have their home. They no longer see a garden or pet a dog or cat. They no longer have a closet full of clothing for a social life they live rather a closet that holds just a few pieces as if they will not be there long. As if time is running out.
So my neighbor is right, it is a depressing place. And across the world there are many of these places. These little grey towns that a passerby rarely takes notice much less giving any thought. A long time friend wrote a book titled Death Without Dignity. It is a must read for everyone. Someday we may end up parked in one of these grey towns. Some day we may be the one overseeing another and making the decision it is time or the best place for them to live the remaining time.
Much of the book presents some sad situations and I wonder if when we walk into a place such as these if we do not turn a blind eye. Do we take notice of anything amiss or do we overlook the signs so it does not take time from our world. Do we just forget about the people in these little communities or do we try to make the day a bit better when we walk through the hall to see a neighbor. Do we gain courage within to realize that there by the grace of God goes I or do we run to the door to escape once the visit is made.
It is a sad thing when the quality of life changes. When the decisions of others override our desires, our longings, our wishes. It is a sad thing when a doll has lost its clothing as its owner has lost her opportunity to voice. It is a sad thing if dignity is not part of the remaining years. Dignity is what matters to us all at any stage of life, particularly the older we become.
So it is that I hope my neighbor may override his decision makers and go home. May he leave before further depression sets in. May he be one of the rare ones that gets to go home to enjoy his remaining years within the familiar walls of his home. What all of us want and how wonderful it would be if all of us could have just that…the comfort, the dignity of living out our life in familiar surroundings with art, pretty walls and people we know rather then in a dingy white, blue grey town.