We were sitting in my grandfather’s room at the nursing home, talking about nothing, as you tend to do.
She walked in like a scary Joan Crawford, glancing at us before looking elsewhere as she made her way to the other side of the room.
“Are you looking for someone?” one of us asked.
She stopped cold. Her eyes widened. “Maybe I am.”
It was chilling. And later, funny. A short story that would be told often.
Her name was Joanne. She hadn’t meant to be scary. She hadn’t meant to offend. She was just disoriented. As are most people in the nursing home. That might not be an accurate statement. It’s just my casual observation.
I don’t know when nursing home visits became part of our routine, but they’ve been a fairly steady occurrence for the last twenty years or so.
My great uncle was a country preacher back in the day. A stern-looking man, very conservative, but with a good sense of humor. His last months were spent in the nursing home. He did not go gentle into that good night. He would lay in his bed and yell. And curse. At the top of his lungs.
It was scary. It was funny. But most of all, it was sad. It makes you realize that life is a struggle to be the kind of person you know you should be.
My grandmother, his sister, was in the same facility, although I’m not sure if it was the same time. She spent two years there after her stroke and was as quiet and gentle as she had been at home. My grandfather and two of his sons visited her almost every day. We would talk to her, tell her about the garden, the weather, and her great-grandchildren. Most times, there was no response. The visits were more for the visitors.
There have been more relatives, friends, and neighbors.
It can be heart-breaking, especially if you think about it too much. It helps when you realize that most of the residents are living in the moment. They all want to be someplace else. We all wish they could be.
This year, we’ve visited a friend who really doesn’t want to be there. When we would show up, she wouldn’t talk, wouldn’t even look at us. This continued for weeks.
Still, we tried.
Finally, she started to warm up. And though she’s far from normal, she at least welcomes our visits. We don’t know what brought about the change, whether it was meds (or lack of meds) or just an attitude adjustment. And we know it could go back to being icy on our next visit. Even if it does, we’ll go back.
Not because we get anything out of it ourselves. It can be taxing.
Not because we’re making the lives of those we see that much better. Most of the time they’ll forget we were even there.
Do you remember the last time someone smiled when they saw you? Do you remember how that smile made you feel? Just for that moment?
It’s just a better moment. For everybody.