By Sherry White Jeffcoat
It has struck me so oddly in the past months now how the only time I see my school friends is in nursing homes.
It also struck me about how sad it is to get such a dose of reality slapped in your face.
Deep down none of us REALLY thought we would reach this day, did we? Intellectually we knew it would happen, but did you REALLY understand that when you casually say things like" life is so short"! that is so much more than a cliche?
Did you REALLY conceptualize that one day you would be watching aides cleaning up your parent like they were infants? It comes full circle then. You see unfolding before you what you had always heard about how the child becomes the parent one day and the parent becomes the child.
But oh, dear God, no one had the foresight to tell me how painful that day would be. One day we were living life and enjoying our mother, even with her advanced age and age related issues, and literally the next day we were fighting for her life and life as we knew it was gone forever.
I see many old friends these days, not in the grocery store or a party, but at the nursing home trying to cope with the horrors of not only the illness and aging process, but the oh so screwed up financial world of trying to get good care for your parents when you can no longer take care of them yourself.
I have seen friends lose everything they had and still owe more to try to finance their parent’s stay in a nursing facility. I can see in their faces what I see in mine, grief, extreme fatigue, confusion about the process and mostly the love and sadness they are feeling for their parent’s situation.
It hurts so damn much too! When I see the friend, I visualize the parent that used to take care of my teeth, or be my doctor, or just be my friend’s parent that welcomed us into their homes and hosted spend the night parties and barbeques.
Their parents ran the community. They worked in the post office like my mother, or they worked at our banks, they were everywhere making this community a better place for all of us and now they lay in their beds, go everywhere in their wheel chairs, and many of them have to be hand fed.
Many of them have lost their thoughts and memories to Alzheimer’s and can’t even recognize their family and friends. That is tragic, but I don’t know which situation is more tragic, the one where they don’t know where they are and the indignities they are suffering, or the ones who still are alert and well aware of their situations. They see that their bodies just can’t cooperate with their brains and do what it is being told to do by their minds.
I have sat their with tears streaming down my face when I see the ones asking to go home, wondering why they can’t and breaking their children’s hearts when the children have to make up some lie… "Maybe when you get a little better Mama, or "soon, Daddy."
Your own mortality slaps you in the face too during this process. We say we are baby boomers and usually have fun with that. Now instead I see that in 20 years it will be us going through this. I had a friend recently say to me that if I counted out the hours I had left to live, I would probably not worry so much about things, especially the things that I cannot change, that I would try to see the good and the positive in more situations, and that I would know that it isn’t worth one second of your life to continue to try to change situations or relationships that you have no power over.
I only hope that somehow one day our society will make this process a whole lot easier on us all. For those who didn’t understand the need for nursing home insurance, I hope that our society will still take care of them without stripping them of everything they worked hard for in exchange for taking care of them. My hope is that change will come where we are all made so aware of how we have a responsibility to let our elderly die in a dignified way without worry about those they leave behind. They deserve that, peace of mind, and peace of heart.
I like to write light hearted articles because that is more me. Like the Deluded Diva Emily Jones, we often see the world in a way that most people don’t and we love to point things out on how we view some situations in non-typical ways.
Today, I am not light hearted, I am broken hearted for all of us that are now or will be or have been faced with this situation, and I know it probably means it affects ALL of us baby boomers. But those of you who aren’t here yet….. please hold your mama and daddy a little closer, don’t say harsh things you can’t take back, don’t con yourself into believing they don’t know more than you do about life, and most of all tell them how much you love them, cherish them, and be with them whenever possible.
Being with them whenever possible later on will mean sitting with them, holding their hands, combing their hair, reassuring them about almost everything, reading to them, trying to make sure your parent doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. Believe me many of them do get lost in the shuffle.
I have seen so many of the elderly in these homes that never receive a visitor. They ask for you….I lie to them…I tell them you will be there, that you probably had to go to the grocery store.
They make excuses for you too. They tell me "Yes, my son (or daughter) is just SO busy, they just have so much to do."
I hold their hands as tears stream down their faces, I feed them when they don’t have enough aides to do it and you aren’t there. I cover them when they are cold which is most of the time as the elderly just don’t have our ability to stay as warm.
Please don’t let yours get lost in the shuffle, they deserve better.