- Aging & Longevity
Seeing Life Through Eunice's Eyes -Part 6
Note: The images that appear in the "Seeing Life Through Ms. Eunice's Eyes" series of hubs, are NOT those of the actual Ms. Eunice, but are stock images that reflect her many personality traits.
Upon arriving at the nursing home for my weekly visit with Ms. Eunice, I found her visiting with her son's girlfriend - a well dressed, friendly woman that looked to be in her early sixties. I had met her once before and was glad to see she was also there to visit Ms. Eunice. However, she indicated she didn't have any longer to stay, and within five minutes of my arrival, she departed. After she left, Ms. Eunice indicated how glad she was to have her company, since her son had left to go fishing and wouldn't be back for a few more days. Thus started this weeks topic of conversation...
It Gets So Lonely...
"You have no idea how lonely it gets around here sometimes", Ms. Eunice lamented.
"Oh, I'm sure it does", I softly replied. I studied her facial expression for a few moments, trying to discern the true source of her loneliness. Was it that she missed her beloved Albert so much, that caused most of it, or was it the whole empty, lonely atmosphere of the nursing facility in which she now called "home"? I probed her for more of an explanation.
"What do you miss the most, Ms. Eunice?", I questioned.
"I just miss having someone to talk to, and having somewhere to go. Albert and I used to get in the car and just go."
"Where did you go?", I asked.
"I don't know. Just here and there. Anywhere. We'd go visiting, or go eat at the BBQ restaurant, or visit family. If I could only get out of here once in a while and just GO somewhere!" I could hear the desperation in her voice. Life, as she once knew it, was right outside those nursing home doors, yet she had no way to get to it, or at the very least, was at the mercy of her son to come and get her. Moreover, it would never be the same, even if she COULD get out. At least not without Albert.
"Well, doesn't your son come and take you places - out to eat and to visit with your grandchildren and great grandchildren?"
"Yes, sometimes. But he's always fishing it seems, and I miss him SO much when he's not here!" Another silent cry of loneliness seeped through her words.
"So, where's my goodie? Didn't you bring me a goodie this time?", she asked, intentionally changing the subject.
"Of course I did!", I answered. I rummaged through my handbag and pulled out a small bag of chocolate covered pretzels I had picked up for her earlier. "And you know it's chocolate too - chocolate pretzels!"
"Oh, good!", was her only reply. Her enthusiasm was tempered and I feared I had disappointed her with my chocolate offering of the week. However, upon closer examination of the drawer in her bedside table earlier when her son's daughter was there, I realized I wasn't the only one who had been bestowing her with sweet treats! Caramel popcorn, cheese and crackers, potato chips and candy bars were just a few of the sweet treasures Ms. Eunice had stored away in her nightstand like a squirrel storing away nuts for the winter!
"It's plain to see you're not going to go hungry anytime soon!" I had teased her upon discovering her sweet stash.
"Yes, other folks have been bringing me goodies, too!" she had bashfully confessed.
"So I see! Well maybe it will help you put back on some weight!" She was still rather thin, but she explained how sometimes the dining room food there was kind of "mushy", and she just didn't like it. Not to mention she spent most of her time in her room snacking, which quite possibly was responsible for quelling her appetite.
"So, what have you been doing this week?", I asked. She peered off into the distance as if she were trying to reel in the memories of the past few days.
"Well, not much. Not too much to do around here, you know! I visited with some of my neighbors down the hall, but sometimes they don't have much to say. Except for that woman across the hall - she talks ALL the time. She really gets on my nerves sometimes!", she said, her mouth twisted in a disgusted manner.
"Yea, I know what you mean - I hate a motor-mouth, too!", I agreed.
"I try to talk to some of the others, but they don't say much." I thought about how much more cognizant Ms. Eunice seemed compared to some of the other residents I'd encountered on prior visits. To be almost ninety years old, her mind was still quite a bit sharper than those around her, making it difficult for her to carry on a two-way conversation with any depth of understanding.
I also noticed Ms. Eunice looked stronger and healthier than I had seen her in weeks. She even moved almost effortlessly when she got up to go to the restroom. And a healthy, pink color had returned to her face, replacing the pale, sallow complexion she usually wore.
"Ms. Eunice, I believe you're looking better than I've seen you since you came here! You look so much stronger and healthier. Are you feeling better this week?"
"You know, everyone keeps telling me that! But yes, I do feel much better, and I'm not in so much pain since I've been taking those pain pills for my back. And this thing helps alot, too!" She tugged at the upper body brace which had now become like a second skin. It seemed she had even accepted it more, as part of the many permanent changes she'd endured in such a short time.
"Well, I can certainly tell you're looking AND feeling better!", I complimented.
"Lisa, are you sure you're not just saying that to make an old woman feel better?"
"No, Ms. Eunice - I mean it. You DO look so much better! And you seem to be moving around alot better too!"
"Well, I've been walking up and down the halls right much more. You know, I used to walk a mile a day with my neighbor when I lived at home. Of course, I can't walk that much now, but the other day I walked up and down the hall twice! But I got turned around and had to have someone help me find my way back to my room. That's why I don't like to walk by myself alot. But I can't just sit around in here all day long either! Sometimes I've just GOT to get out of this room, or I'd go crazy! Lisa, You just don't know how lonely it gets in here", repeating the statement she had made earlier.
It seemed meaningless and insincere for me to agree with her, as I really had NO idea how she felt. My life was filled with family, friends and the freedom to come and go as I pleased. How could I possibly understand the empty loneliness of the world she lived in? I just sat there for a moment and thought about how confining it must be for her to sit there all day long with hardly no one to talk to, and no where to go. Not to mention her limited eyesight narrowed her choice of daily activities even more.
The isolation she felt must be unimaginable!
"Ms Eunice, do you think you'll ever be able to go home again?", I asked, regretting the question as soon as it slipped from my mouth. THIS was her home now, but she just seemed so out of place - even in her partially-blind and aged condition. I wished so much there was an alternate solution for her.
"I don't know. Not unless some family member could come and live there with me. I was going to talk to my sister Margaret about that, but you know, she stays near my other sister who is ninety-four, and kind of watches out for her. I don't think she'd want to leave there and come live with me."
"Well, why couldn't you go live with her? Is that something you'd want to do?"
"Yes, I'd love to go live with her. And I plan on talking to her about that, too; next time I see her. I would love to go stay with her. We get along real well!" I noticed her eyes always glistened when she talked about her baby sister, Margaret. They were very close - and both very much alone.
Margaret's husband had died several years ago, as well, and with the exception of a son nearby, her only other living relatives were Ms. Eunice and their older sister, whom they affectionately called "Monk". But amazingly, to be in their nineties, all three sisters were in very good physical and mental condition. Monk, the oldest at ninety-four, even stayed by herself, and still cooked and cleaned for herself, Ms. Eunice had told me.
"Well, you know, if you went to stay with Margaret, you'd be a little ways away from your son", I reminded her, knowing how much she counted on his daily visits and constant companionship.
"I know, but it seems like he's always fishing or something. And besides, he could come see me at Margaret's." It seemed she had already worked the situation out in her mind. I imagined it was a hope and dream she fantasized about quite often in the long, lonely hours that subdued her time.
"Well, I hope you can work it out, Ms. Eunice. I know you would rather be with your sister than here."
"I don't know. She said I could come anytime I wanted. But sometimes I think maybe I'm just better off here." Her comment surprised me. A tone of acceptance and submissiveness coated her words. Could it be she was finally ready and willing to call the nursing facility "home"?
To Be Needed....
Our conversation continued, and Ms. Eunice told me how she longed to visit more with her grandchildren and great grandchildren, as well as how she wished they'd visit her more.
"My son got on my granddaughter the other day about not coming to see me - or bringing the girls to visit. I wished hadn't done that, but then she did call and invite me over for Sunday lunch."
"Well, you know Ms. Eunice, people get so caught up with their own lives. It's not that they don't think about you or want to visit; its just that people are so busy, they don't take the TIME they should to visit. I'm guilty of that myself. I kept thinking all last week I was going to get up here and see you, but I just let other things get in the way." I hung my head down, feeling the weighty guilt of my own inexcusable absence the week before.
"Yes, and you promised me you'd come back last week!", she sharply reminded me, as if she were reading my own thoughts.
"I know, and I'm sorry. You're right." Again, guilt washed over me and I realized how much she needed and looked forward to my visits. To visits from anyone, really.
"So, you're going to visit this Sunday? That will be fun for you. Is your son going to take you over there?"
"No, my granddaughter's husband will come get me and take me. I really enjoy visiting over there. I get to play with my great grand girls, and help my granddaughter in the kitchen. It's so nice to visit with them when I can. But I don't know why she hardly brings the girls here to see me. Sometimes I feel like no one cares about me anymore." Again, her words were filled with loneliness, sorrow and hopelessness. Like anyone else, all she wanted was to be needed again. To feel like someone cared. To be a part of someone's life.
"You just want to be needed again, right?" I gently asked, hoping she'd realize that I was at least TRYING to understand how she felt.
"Yes. You know, one day they're all going to get old like me, and then they'll see what its like to be old and have no one. Lisa, it ain't no fun to be old and be in a place like this. Still, I'm blessed to be as well off as I am. And I've had a good life. Had two good husbands and good children. And I don't have alot of pain, and can get around pretty good! I just wish things hadn't changed like they did. I never thought this would happen to me."
"I know, Ms. Eunice, but life changes for all of us. We just have to go along with it sometimes."
My words echoed and rattled noisily in my mind, and I thought how useless they must have sounded to someone who had been through more life-altering changes in the last six months than I had in a lifetime!
Walking the Halls
"I think I want to go walk some!", Ms Eunice suggested, having missed the usual daily walk she took with her son when he came to visit.
"Okay, lets go walk, then", I replied. I waited for her to use the restroom, then we took off for a lengthy walk through the long, symmetrical corridors that housed the many pocket-sized rooms in which the other residents also called home.
As we walked, Ms. Eunice chatted about her neighbors, pointing out their various ailments, personalities and the relationships she had formed with them. Unfortunately, most of them were either severely senile and/or incapacitated either physically or mentally. As we strolled up and down each hall, I peered quickly inside the rooms where the doors had been left open. Most of the residents were in bed, sleeping or watching TV. Some were old, and surprisingly, many were much younger.
I remember seeing one young woman - she couldn't have been more than thirty-five or forty - sitting in a recliner in her room, coloring the pages of a children's coloring book, her world far removed from the one in which Ms. Eunice lived. So ironic, I thought. It's not just old people with dementia who end up in nursing homes, lost and forgotten. There are so many others - old AND young - who have lost touch with reality and need the kind of care and attention that can only be found in such places.
We rounded the second hall and Ms. Eunice slowed down just a moment to catch her breath.
"Ready to go back to your room now?", I asked.
"No, not just yet. Lets go down that hall now", she replied, nodding toward the opposite direction.
"Okay, let's go!", I coaxed, Ms. Eunice already strolling quickly ahead of me.
Once again, we passed by many more rooms, although most of these had the doors closed, and were adorned with various bows, wreaths or stuffed animals - an obvious attempt to brighten each door with a little touch of "home". Ms. Eunice would stop at almost each door and touch each wreath, "seeing" it with her hands and fingers. She traced the long tendrils of a bow on one door and remarked that it was "probably a big bow". At other doors, she would touch objects and ask me what they were. I wondered just how much she could really see of the world in which she lived.
"How much of the wreath can you see, Ms. Eunice?" I questioned her of one particular door.
"Oh, I can see the shape and outline of it. I can tell its a wreath" she replied
"Can you tell what color it is?"
"No, I can't see the color", she answered. Sometimes I forget that Ms. Eunice is partially blind. She seems to get around so well, and not once did she run into a wall, door or other obstacle as we walked. I tried to imagine how limited her vision was. I couldn't do it. I was acutely reminded how well I can see, even without my own "artificial eyes" - my contact lens, in place. So much we take for granted....
We circled back around and came back to the intersection of the hall in which Ms. Eunice's room was located. She stopped and looked around, as if trying to regain her sense of direction.
"This is where I got turned around the other day", she remarked.
"Well, your room is right down this way", I replied, as I guided her in the right direction. "Are you ready to go back now?"
"Yes, I think so. I'm feeling a little tired and I don't want to get too winded." She took a few more long strides with her walker, and within seconds we were back at her door. She sat down in her recliner and I could almost feel her relief as she sat down; glad to be in her own room again. It occurred to me that even though she felt at times confined in her tiny dwelling, she had also bonded with the security she found within its walls. Again, the irony of it all spilled forth. Her confining prison, was also a safe fortress of security and stability.
Ms. Eunice was finally starting to accept the nursing home as "her home".
"Well, I have to go now, Ms. Eunice - I have an appointment to get to."
"Well, I sure am glad you came to visit me, Lisa. Now don't you forget you promised to come back next week! And if you don't, I'm going to be upset with you!"
"I PROMISE I'll be back next week!", I assured her. I leaned over and gave her a big hug. She hugged me back and held me tight for just a moment.
"I think I'll walk out with you and visit with my friends in the lobby" , she replied.
"Okay, c'mon then", I said. She once again retrieved her walker and we headed out into the hall. When we got to the lobby, there was an empty chair sitting between two other ladies. Ms. Eunice took her place amongst them, and pulled her walker close to her, out of the way. She attempted to introduce me to her friends, but all they could do was nod at me. I nodded and smiled back.
"You have a good week and behave yourself, okay?", I instructed her.
"Well, I'll do my best. Ain't nothing much to do BUT behave around here!" she joked.
I waved goodbye to her and her friends, and as I was heading to the door, I heard her call out sweetly...
"I love you!"
"I love you, too!", I called back, my heart answering hers.
I slipped quietly through the front door and headed to my car. The dreary fall day was cool and damp, but my heart was light and warm from my visit with Ms. Eunice. I was gradually reconciling to the fact that I needed to see her as much as she needed to see me. My visits with Ms. Eunice had blessed me in ways I had not expected, and it was then I realized what God meant when he said, "...He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed." - Proverbs 11:25 NIV