Thursday, December 23, 2010

Say Goodbye to 2010

Neutral Places - 5, 2006

I’m going to take a week or so off from What I Saw to be with family, attend to some work assignments and re-charge the mental batteries. I’ll be back on January third.

In the meantime, let me tell you about a couple of experiences yesterday that kicked me into the holiday mood more than anything has yet.

I had lunch yesterday with my mother to celebrate her ninetieth birthday. To be honest, there’s not a lot you can do for someone celebrating her ninetieth birthday at a nursing home. There’s nothing she needs or, at this point, wants. Life in the nursing home doesn’t present many fashion or beauty opportunities. We used to give my mother her favorite perfume for her birthday. But like a lot of things she has liked through the years, they’ve stopped making her favorite perfume. My wife found a replacement, and although I don’t know that my mother will have the presence of mind to reach over and use it, just having the bottle nearby gives her at least the illusion of being able to doll herself up a little.

I describe the food at the nursing home as being designed to make you want to get better and get the heck out of the place. It’s generally flat, dull and not very tasty. So I brought in some Pollard’s fried chicken—the best hereabouts—and side dishes you doesn’t usually see at the nursing home, like corn pudding, a whole sweet potato and a few other things.

I tried to find things to talk about: memorable birthdays, other relatives who lived to ninety or beyond, and so on. Sadly, my mother couldn’t remember much about any other birthdays and couldn’t describe to me exactly how she was related to some of her favorite aunts and uncles. The memory eater in her mind is gobbling up more names and events each day. Still, the lunch was a success.

After leaving my mothers’ room I decided to check in on her roommate from the assisted living center, who also recently moved to the same nursing home. The last two times I’d checked on Norma she was either asleep or unable to have visitors. But today she was sitting up in the dining room having lunch.

When we used to visit my mother at the assisted living facility Norma would always give us a big smile and greeting. She seemed so together that I initially wondered why she was even in the intensive assisted living area. But if you tried to have a conversation with Norma you discovered by the second or third sentence that her frame of reference was some other time or dimension.

So you can imagine my surprise today when I approached Norma’s table and she recognized me immediately and gave me a big smile and a hug. I told her we’d missed her and she told me how much it meant to her to see a familiar face and for me to take the time to visit with her.

Nursing homes can be pretty grizzly places for the uninitiated. Age, accidents and sickness can take a toll on people’s physical appearance. Over the four times my mother has been in this particular rehab/nursing facility I’ve gotten to know some of the long-term residents. The outward manifestations of their conditions can make them a little scary or intimidating at first. But if you can get past those outward appearances, you can often find a kind and thoughtful person anxious to interact with someone who isn’t a nurse, an aide or a food worker or housekeeper. The person might not be able to speak. Sometime just holding a hand brings a smile to the face of someone unable to understand why he or she can’t go home.

I’m sorry if this sounds gloomy. When I left the facility yesterday afternoon I actually felt like I was walking on air for a little while. Without any special effort on my part, I’d brought a little cheer, a little human touch and a little interruption from the tedium of institutional life to two sick old ladies and a handful of other lonely people I encountered in the halls and dining room.

If that doesn’t warm your heart, I don’t know what will.

See you in January!


  1. Beautiful post, Chris. Your insights are heartfelt and greatly appreciated. Enjoy this time off; wishing you a peace-filled holiday and New Year

  2. Thanks, Uncle Chris, for spending time with Grandma Margie and for brightening the lives of others. Enjoy your blogrest and have a lovely Christmas and New Year celebration. Miss you.

  3. You've made me smile.
    Have a wonderful holiday!

  4. Too many people don't understand the upside of visiting a nursing center. So many of the residents have so few people visit, and they are starved for attention and treats from the outside. Something as small as a Reese's cup, a foxtrot to oldie or 1960s Life magazine picked up at a consignment store can make a day wonderful for the resident and the visitor. Especially if the former is in a Memory Unit.
    We'll miss your musings and observations, Chris. Best wishes for a peaceful holiday.

  5. Thanks Chris. Lovely post. Hope you all have a very Merry Christmas.

  6. I can totally understand, and it sounds you did a good thing there , giving happiness and joy- just the thing for this time of year.Hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and thank you for your enjoyable great posts this year.

  7. All I can say is "Bless your heart!"

    And Merry Christmas.

  8. Chris, if you don't watch out you are going to become quite spiritual. Merry Christmas.

  9. Chris, you are a good soul! I'm glad to know you, even if it's just electronically. There was nothing gloomy about this post. One thing you can say for Alzheimer's - it really forces you to live in the moment, even if that moment lacks the depth you might hope for. Have a great Christmas with the rest of your family and friends, have a good break and see you back here in the new year! (More formal greetings follow by mail, but will probably be a bit late.)

  10. Your post reminded me of visiting my grandmother at the end of her life in an assisted living facility, and we got to know the other residents very well--they became like our extended family. I worried about them all!

    Your mom did good--she must know she has a wonderfully thoughtful, loving son. Merry Christmas to you and your family and your mom. Enjoy the time off and I'll look forward to next year.

  11. The blogosphere needs more of the human element, like this,and less of the other stuff.

  12. lovely post, Chris.

  13. Last year I went to visit a friends that was hospitalizated for a long period in a reabilitation.
    She was there after a terrific car accident and two-month coma.
    The accident happenedn in February and she moved the first steps by herself in July.
    When aI went there to stay with her I had the strange sensation that the time outside was no more important ... there was no time in that place but only a long pending ... hands to shake, hug, smiles and more than all stories to listen to ... a way to pass through the large waiting.
    These things seem anything but it is not because when I returned back home I felt lighter ... perhaps aware that I could go home ... perhaps conscious of having spent my time to make it less heavy the long wait ...

    Have a wonderful year Chris!


  14. Thanks for sharing. My mother will be 95 next March. Physically she's doing beter than I am, but the memory eater is doing a good job on her. She lives with my sister,who is sometimes her mother,sometimes her sister,sometimes a roomate,but I'm always her son.
    They need us, and Thank God, we're there for them.

    Wish we all have a wonderful year

    Rogerio (Flickr's cariocando)