- Aging & Longevity
A Day At The Wellington
One of my best friends has a saying that she spouts pretty much any time we get into a conversation about getting old and going into Retirement/Nursing Homes - "Shoot Me Before I Get There". Well maybe a Retirement Home may suit her alright as pretty much you are only going there if you are still able to take care of yourself, for the most part, but maybe just don't want to have to bother getting your own meals and cleaning your own house. A nursing home on the other hand usually means that you have reached that stage in your life where you "have to be taken care of", never mind the meals and housekeeping. And of course this may be her own fear of what we all eventually face in the future, and in the twilight years of our lives. I'm sure she really doesn't mean it! Er - let's hope not!
These conversations usually occur around the topic of my mother who is now in a nursing home - The Wellington to be specific - and whatever ailments of the day that she and I are discussing. Mom has a neuro-muscular disease and she finally reached the point where she could no longer stay alone, having fallen last summer and fracturing her neck. My friend's own mom who is about the same age as my mother is lucky enough to be in fairly good health, and still lives in her own home thanks to a son and daughter both living with her. Not everyone is that fortunate.
Talking It Up
We've (my sister and I) been talking up this nursing home idea now for about eight years as we knew there would come a time where mom could no longer stay alone. She did not like this idea - no, not one little bit. After all she remembered when her own mother had gone to a nursing home at the age of 97 and only lasted one month. There's some irony in there, isn't there? Also bear in mind this was well over 30 years ago and nursing homes have come a long way since then, as I kept telling her. Little by little she saw that she at least had to get on a list for one of these wretched places, because after all she didn't want to be left behind.
I do know that if it had been five years ago, she would have gone kicking and screaming. But indeed the writing was on the wall with this last accident, even for her. She could see it clearly. Our next worry for my sister and I was that she could not afford a private room. And that was of course because she lived the Life of Riley all throughout her years and saved not a penny for her twilight years. In her own words "I lived my life the way I wanted". OK!! But I knew that somewhere along the way I was going to feel guilty, damn it all anyway.
In the weeks preceding her leaving, and before we knew she was going to The Wellington, I kept talking up all the attributes of the new modern day nursing home facilities to her. I regaled her with stories of activities that she might enjoy when she was there, trips she might go on, people she would be able to socialize with, playing cards and other games - and always "that we would both - my sister and I - still be visiting her, it would just be in a different place".
When we got the call that they had a place for her we started really ramping up the good news. We would take some of her favourite framed pictures to her room to hang on her wall; and I would go to Homesense and buy her a pretty bedspread for her bed. She looked at me and said "how are we going to move my bed there"? Oh Golly, the moment had come. She had a Queen sized bed and was going into a space that would only have a single bed, a night table, and a chair - and maybe a small space for a TV. That was the next thing, she wanted to take her humongous TV Cabinet, full of her DVD and CD player, and old VHS and all of her videos. Let me tell you - these videos of hers would stock a library - and I am not kidding!
I just looked at her and said "Oh mom your bed will not fit into your space, but don't worry we are going to get you a lovely bedspread and pillows and make your space lovely, and I wanted to cry!
The Day Of
The day having arrived, we both went to The Wellington to help her integrate as best we could. My heart was in my mouth when she left her beautiful condo and simply said "Bye Apartment". When we arrived at the nursing home and they directed us to her room, saying that a nurse would be with us momentarily, I truly was scared. I thought she would indeed scream and yell when she saw her room. Fortunately we no sooner got there, when a nurse came in and introduced herself, then another, and another and then even the maintenance man. All had a big welcome and a hug for her and her eyes were wide as saucers.
All of a sudden she turned to me where I was sitting on her little bed and said "Don't worry Lynda, this is OK". You have to keep in mind here, that this was coming from a woman who was very controlling and demanding all of her life, and whom we now suspect has OCPD -Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. So, you can imagine what that did for me at that moment - such a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and I felt like I could breathe. Then she looked at the bed and said "Is that the bedspread?" And a little nervously, expecting the bombshell to finally fall, I said "ah, yes, this is the one that the nursing home supplies". Before I could say more her response was " Well whats wrong with that, it's beautiful and I like it". You could have knocked me over with a feather. You would have to have seen my mother's condo and her decor to know what I mean. Suffice it to say that this is where all her money went, so you have an idea.
The Fun Begins
None of this is to say that she did not and still does sometimes have her moments, but for the most part my mom has settled into this new situation in her life quite well. For one she loves the food, which blew me away because we grew up always knowing and understanding that "no one could cook as well as her". It didn't hurt that the first day for lunch, (and I went down with her) she was offered two choices and she chose stuffed green peppers with a tomato sauce on them. She was off and running to the races. Friday is Fish & Chip day and this brings her a huge amount of pleasure as she really should have been a Brit, rather than an Italian. In fact her seatmate for all meals is Olive a lovely British lady and they love each other to death. No Pun intended!
The months have gone by and I do notice a change in mom in that sometimes she says things that are not right. Like she kept telling me that the lady in the corner on the other side of the wall had men come in. "No" - I say - and "yes" she would say right back to me - "I see them". No amount of me telling her that this was someone visiting helped. She was convinced this lady had men "visiting" her (this was said with a raise of eyebrows - you know that look) - for what I didn't have the nerve to ask her.
This poor little lady has dementia and has since been moved to another area of the home, but off and on before she was moved mom always told me how nice "Margaret was". Somehow she had forgotten about the men. Now Margaret was very helpful to her, always helping her in the bathroom or around her bed. Never mind that Margaret was doing nothing but patting mom on her arm, but she was helping. Then one day she said "she has a very well developed body for such a young girl" - "I know because I saw her in the bathroom". This came out a couple of times until I asked her how old she thought Margaret was. She said "oh she has to be at least 30". I guess it does help that Margaret happens to be very short and so she looked young! In mom's eyes anyway!
Someone else is on the other side of the wall now sharing that space with another lady in a second bed, but mom insists on and off that there are three people over there. And I say "No" and she says right back at me "Yes" and once again I say "No there are only two beds there". She tells me there is a man on crutches. I tell her that this is the lady's son but it falls on deaf ears. And on it goes.
And then There Was Mother's Day
This last Mother's Day we saw on the activities calender that they were going to have a celebration in the afternoon in honour of all the ladies in the home. My sister and I got there early and it was such a lovely day that we took mom out to the patio for a while before the programme began.
As the time neared for the entertainment we wheeled mom back in and got a good seat, sitting in front of Liza, a dear sweet lady who was in the same room mom was in originally. Mom has since been moved to another ward, and next to a window as we requested. But Liza misses her, they were always "waving partners" from across the room and Liza loves both mom and me. Mom is "gorgeous" and I am "beautiful". I never go there that I don't look up Liza too. She always takes my hand, raises it either to her heart or to her lips and plants a kiss. I love her, as you can surely love someone that you don't even know that well, but that your heart goes out to.
Now we are waiting for the entertainment to start but meanwhile a lady comes strolling by with her walker, followed by another lady in a walker who is now yelling at her to "move along". This elicits a smartass remark from the first lady who proceeds to walk in front of us and over to the side where she sits down beside a man. Meanwhile the fellow up front is tuning up his guitar and he informs everyone he is going to sing a song dedicated to all the mothers. I glance at my sister and say "Oh oh - you know what's coming next". Sure enough he is Italian and he starts with "Mama" -and I am wondering what the non-Italians are thinking. In the meantime right at this precise moment, the lady with the walker sitting next to the man is saying out loud "Don't you look at me". We all look over as the man looks perplexed and she is telling him once again "Don't look at me" and innocently enough he aks "Why" and she retorts "Just because".My sister and I are trying very hard not to giggle and then I realize the man is now looking at me.
And then on the heels of that - and in between songs, one of the staff asks another staff member "should we go and get Donald" . My sister and I are wondering who this Donald could be when a few moments later in comes a staff member holding the hand of a man, that very much reminds us of Mickey Rooney, while she leads him along through the room and in front of us, saying "Look Donald, there's your wife" And Donald says out loud "Sweet Marie - is that you Sweet Marie" - and tears immediately sprung to my eyes. Shortly afterwards Donald has to go to the bathroom. They lead him out, and when they bring him back once again and upon seeing his wife he exclaims out loud again "Sweet Marie - is that you - I love you Sweet Marie, is it OK if I say that". It turns out that Donald was on the upper floor because of Dimentia and Marie was on the lower floor. Marie passed away not long ago and they haven't told Donald yet. And he hasn't asked.
Ice Cream Day
The other day I arrived to find mom sitting in her wheelchair in the hallway. This is good, because mostly I find her laying in her bed, until I insist she get up, after which if it is a nice day we go outside to the patio.
On seeing me approaching, a big smile comes over her face and she says "Oh, Lynda I am so glad you are here, we are going outside again to have ice cream". I am surprised because they did this a couple of weeks ago and I didn't realize it would be repeated, so I too am pleased. Then she says "And guess what I did yesterday - I went out for ice cream again" What? She had sworn after coming back from the last trip somewhere that she was never going again. This all happened because she had to go to the bathroom, and they were not near a bathroom; she had to wait until they got back to the nursing home and this did not please her at all. Never mind telling her that this is why she has "depends" on - which she stuffs with all kinds of kleenex and/or toilet paper, because we don't want to get our underwear dirty. She had to go to the bathroom and she was not at all pleased.
So I truly was surprised that she had ventured out again on a driving tour. Well, she proceeded to tell me that they had gone to Van Waggoners Beach. And "guess what? This is a place I used to go to when I was young" she says. Well!! I heard all about the ice cream she'd had and all about the lovely drive down there and back - all of which meant that she had been away from her bathroom for about two and a half hours. I didn't want to ask and so I didn't. I have learned that in the end I have to take each day as it comes. Some days are great and some days are well "not perfect".
On this ice cream day, we all sat ourside at the front entrance in and around the gazebos and umbrella tables waiting for the ice cream truck to arrive. Big smiles on everybody's face as they are handed their cones, mom's always is a twist, a combination of vanilla and chocolate and Olive's is always a plain vanilla twist. After all of this mom declares "isn't this a lovely day, this was so nice" and on the heels of that "everyone I love is here" after which she puts a hand on Olives arm, looks at her to give her the message, and then points at me and then my sister. I am astounded because this is not something that any of us have done very easily. Surely Nanci and I did not grow up with this. But I have to tell you it feels good.
Last night they held a Harvest BBQ at The Wellington. Each resident can have two guests and so of course my sister and I went. When we arrived, we couldn't believe what we were seeing. For one thing the weather co-operated and so they were able to be outside. Facing us were individual tables of six all laid out with gingham (plastic of course) tablecloths in all different colours - blue, red, green and yellow. Little mini pumpkins, squash and various other root vegetables were displayed around the garden, as well as tons of those little scarecrow people placed here and there. You know the variety, the ones we put out in our gardens as fall and the harvest season arrives.
Looking down the way we spotted mom, just as she spotted us. There she sits in the sun with a huge straw hat on her head, arm raised - circling round and round to catch our attention - big smile on her face. When we got to the table she announced that she was afraid we had fogotten. Not long afterwards she informs me that Olive was more worried than her, that we had forgotten. I love it -the way that mom always includes Olive in this, because she has no family of her own - just a Godson who lives all the way the other side of Canada in Vancouver. We have become her family!
Now, let me tell you. I was going to have a hotdog yesterday for lunch, but then decided that I better not do that because we would probably be having a hotdog tonight, or at best a hamburger. Wrong! when our plates arrived, they held BBQ'd spareribs, 2 or 3 ribs; chicken on a stick, a baked potato, fresh corn on the cob and coleslaw. I have to tell you I could not finish it all. On the other hand, mom who never wastes a thing, ate every last scrap on her plate. Then we finished with either pumpkin or apple pie topped with whipped cream.
All the while we sat and listened to live music - a one man steel drum band - and darned if we didn't feel like we were in the Carribean. I could see mom's head bobbing once in a while to the music. This is where of course mom and I are a lot alike, we always did like our music. After dinner, we wheeled her over to where the fellow was playing and were delighted to see Wayne up and dancing with another resident's daughter. Wayne is not very old, he must only be in his 60's, but obviously he is in the nursing home for a reason. He does use a walker, and as he was dancing I could see he was not that steady on his feet. But no problem, every once in a while he would raise his arm and put his hand on the lady's side moving her around into a twirl as we all clapped and grinned. And he looked so happy!!!
And In The End
And mom! I cannot believe my mom and how well she has settled in given her normally controlling ways. And yet maybe there is still some of that present. I recall one day when I wheeled her into the activity room. She spotted a lady there who has just turned 100 and we had to go over and speak with her as usual. Sitting next to her was Jean - another old room mate of mom's whom they had to eventually move because she started appearing at mom's bed in the middle of the night accusing her of stealing her children. : )
Anyway, Jean upon realizing that we were going outside said "I want to go too" When asked where she wanted to go she just said "out, away from here - home - I want to go home". My mother bless her soul, speaks right up and says "And what would you do there - you can't be on your own, who would look after you - they take such good care of you here - the nurses are so good here and we are looked after" on and on she goes - and I know she is in a way mimicking the things I have said to her. All the while the 100 year old lady - Stephanie is her name, and she is stil sharp - and another lady on the other side of her are bobbing their heads in agreement.
When I got mom over to the window where we could sit and chat privately for a while she looked at me and said "Isn't that something, they were all bobbing their heads; that's all we can do these days - is just bob our heads". And we both laughed!