I had to find the passage back. To the place I was before
“Relax”, said the night man, “We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave”
Lyrics to “Hotel California” by the Eagles
These lyrics came to mind yesterday, as they have several times before, as I was driving past the nursing home where I have volunteered for many years. It has always been a place where hope meets reality. A place where we tend to store our elderly and infirm and often times, forget them.
I have always sensed a feeling of desperation upon entering and here is why. Many residents are in the early or advanced stage of dementia. No one really knows what is locked inside. What do they remember? What do they still comprehend? Secrets never to be revealed.
Those that are still cognizant spend endless days wheeling or shuffling through the halls, in search of the cure to boredom. The staff does what they can to entertain them, but it is not enough. It is not home. Not really. It is a place where their life has been placed on hold, in limbo until……..
They crave human interaction, often sitting grouped in the lobby near the nurses station. Some, due to physical issues, are there by design, while others are there through what I suspect is an inherent urge to interface. To be part of something bigger then their room. Often, several are asleep, but, it would seem that the closeness of others provides a comfort that is preferable to lying in their bed.
I didn’t really do much when I visited. Mostly, I would recognize and talk with many of the residents, and play Cribbage and Rummy with others. It always gave me pleasure when one of those with alzheimer’s responded with a smile or reached out to me. In those moments I knew I had touched something inside, something that only a smile or a gesture could reach.
Since the spread of the Corona-virus, my ability to spend some time has obviously been curtailed. I am sure, to those that never had many or any visitors, that nothing really has changed. But to those that have friends and family that love and embrace them, or those that looked forward, as did I, to even brief visits, I am sure the feeling of isolation has escalated.
I ran into one of the CNA’s (Certified Nursing Assistant) from the home the other day. She advised me that two my card playing buddies had passed away over the last four months. It has happened before, so I was saddened, but not surprised. They were as different as different can be. One was upbeat, sharing memories, stories, and jokes. The other was much more brooding, more critical. But they both had something in common with every other resident. Regardless of who they are, or their physical or mental condition, they all have hope. They talk about what they will do when they get out. Or they roll through the halls, testing exit doors to gain egress. To survive, they have to believe that life has something more to offer. There is another chapter to come. There will be a tomorrow that is not the same as today.
I guess that is where my desperation comes in. I am really just sharing theirs. The saddest thing I can imagine is losing control of your own life. Losing that which you have nurtured. Clinging to your last remnants of respect. To have so little.
I have learned over the years that the best gift that I can give them is me. For what it’s worth, I am there to share myself with them. To spend a little time, hopefully brightening someones day. Attempting to provide the kind of love they desire.
Listen Observe Value Engage