So many conflicting feelings. This facility is actually bright and cheery, clean and well-staffed. It's attached to the Regional Medical Center, and so has a competent, professional air. Most of the residents and staff are happy and friendly and helpful. Anyone who despairs about the latest generation (someone is always despairing about the latest generation) should spend a little time here. Trim, perky 20-somethings are everywhere, doctors and nurses and therapists and aides and volunteers.
Who are all these people who have chosen to bring some measure of ease to these anonymous people's final days? What kind of person picks this for a job? What imprints are left on the staff from seeing the ends of so many lives, the termini of our well-lived days? I just don't think I have this in me: I simply couldn't do this job 40 hours a week. But there they are, smiling and saying hello, joshing with the elderly residents, bringing sunshine to people whose tenure at this place will likely be measured in months or weeks. But most often we don't know these things, and these days count like any other days. And so activities are scheduled, desires accommodated, protocols established and personalized and followed. Some residents are wheeled into the cafeteria with oxygen tanks and special power chairs that are nearly beds, the human being with children and grandchildren buried beneath tubes and pumps and monitors, but no less human for that. The little gestures from the staff remind all of us of this simple fact. My mom's roommate Fran makes her way into supper under her own steam tonight, using a walker, rather than coming in her wheelchair, and this gets a vocal reaction from five or six different dining room staff. Fran is pretty happy at this.
I sit in the cafeteria, helping with meal choice and with dining, assisting and encouraging and helping keep focus. So many people in similar circumstances, better and worse. My mother is different, of course. She is not anonymous. She has a long, sparkling history, many connections, friends and acquaintances and a storied past. But after a few short minutes in this setting these individual pathways leading to this nexus fade back into the past, histories dissolving as we watch, nuanced details overwhelmed by the blunt force of crippling infirmity, by the great equalizer of failing health. You're only as good as your last adventure, and this is who we are now: old and struggling with our deficits along the last journeys punched out of this one-way ticket.
It's just so sobering. This is where we're all headed--life at its tattered end. So many people being fed by staff, sitting silent alone or lonely surrounded by other lonely people. Days go by without visitors. I can see me in that wheelchair, alone at my table with my head full of everything that has passed up to this point, reliving the glory that was when I can no longer make new glories. I will remember my wife's smiling face, the homes I made and left, the rotation and lift-off of the DC-8, my childhood in Iowa. This is how life goes, each and every time. But lots of old girls still wear a smile and talk of their plans: someone is coming to take them to the beauty shop on Thursday; Golden Girls is on tomorrow; there is bluegrass music in the chapel tonight; the Twins are playing at seven.
In fact my mother's needs are greater than most. Why are some of these people here? Our culture does not often find people living in extended families under a single roof. How odd to see someone very nearly capable of living on their own being in here--just past the tipping point where, without a spouse or live-in relative, there's just not enough security to leave them at home alone. A relief maybe, but purchased at so exorbitant a price, a one-way portal walked thru after a hesitation. This is it. Make your peace with it.