- Aging & Longevity
Seeing Life Through Eunice's Eyes - Part 7
The Story Continues...
If you've been following along with this series of hubs, by now you know the story. I befriended an elderly woman who has just recently lost not only her husband, the love of her life, but her home as well. After Ms. Eunice's husband passed away suddenly, her son did the only next best thing for his elderly, partially blind mother - admit her to a nursing home facility. A heartbreaking decision, no doubt, but one that was obviously in her best interest considering her failing eyesight from macular degeneration, and her inability to live alone. Nevertheless, Ms. Eunice, at the ripe old age of 89 is still very much cognitive of her surroundings, able to walk fairly well with a walker, and able to carry on a conversation that rises well above the usual grunts and groans of most nursing home patients. In fact, she often gets quite frustrated with the lack of meaningful communication and silent stares she receives from the other residents she cohabits with.
My weekly and biweekly visits with her have proven to be a source of welcome interruption for her, breaking up the long, monotonous hours of nursing home living, and surprisingly, a source of wisdom and inspiration for me, from a woman who "sees" life differently than most.
I give you now, the details of my most recent visit with Ms. Eunice....
Time to Go..
Already late for my meeting with the client who called earlier, I told Ms. Eunice I had to go. She asked me to dial her son's number for her before I left, wanting to find out when he would be back to visit. I dialed the number and handed her the phone.
"Hey, Son, this is your Mother. Where are you? Are you coming to see me today?" she questioned. "Oh, you're coming tomorrow? Oh, okay. Are you catching a lot of fish? Are you going to fry them up and invite me over to eat? Well, okay. I've got to go now - Lisa is here and she's got to leave. I'll see you tomorrow.." The conversation was short, but seemed to ease her mind a bit that he would be there the next day.
"He's ALWAYS fishing alot here lately" she complained. "He doesn't come to see me nearly as much as he used to when I first came here!" She seemed perturbed at his frequent absence.
"Well, it'll soon be too cold to fish, and then he'll probably come see you more then" I tried to reassure her.
"I don't know. He says he can't just come up here and sit all day with me. Says it's boring. I asked him, "how do you think I feel?" "He don't know what its like to have to stay in this place all the time!"
"Doesn't he ever come and take you anywhere?" I asked.
"Well, sometimes he'll come and get me and take me to eat. But that's all. If only I could just GO somewhere."
"Where do you want to go, Ms. Eunice?" I inquired, wondering where she'd like to go.
"I don't know. But when my other son in Virginia gets better, I'm going to stay with him a couple of days." Her voice was almost desperate, the thought of escaping the prison she was in, lighting a flicker of hope in her heart and soul. I prayed a quick prayer for her son to get better - for both their sakes.
"Do you EVER go outside this place, Ms. Eunice? There's a nice porch out front with rocking chairs and benches you could sit on."
"No, only when my son takes me somewhere."
"Well, next time I come back, I'm going to take you outside for a while - if the weather is nice, okay?"
"Okay, as long as it isn't raining" she replied. The idea neither excited or interested her much.
"I've got to go now" I said, walking over and sitting down beside her on the bed. I reached over to hug her goodbye. "I love you, Ms. Eunice", I said as I reached over and gently hugged her. "Oh, I love you, too" she said emphatically as she threw both arms around me and returned the hug. "You come back soon again, okay?"
"Oh, I will. You know I'll be back next week! You be good and behave yourself!" I instructed her as I got up to leave. She asked if I wanted her to walk out with me, but I told her no. I could tell she was tired and needed to rest. "You lie down for a while and rest before dinner, okay?" She didn't protest my suggestion, but instead sat back down on the bed. I walked to the door and once again told her I'd return next week. The look of hope and expectancy in her eyes told me I'd better keep my promise.
I walked back to the front and saw Ms. Laurene, Ms. Eunice's elderly black friend I had met the week before. I touched her on the shoulder and said hello. "Do you remember me, Ms. Laurene?" I asked, gently prodding her memory. She looked at me with the same confusion I saw on the faces of the other residents there. "I'm Ms. Eunice's friend, Lisa. I met you last week!" She struggled to place me in the dark corners of her memory. Finally, a memory came to the surface. "Oh yes, I think I do remember you now. So good to see you!" She reached over and gave me a hug. "It's good to see you again, too. You take care and have a good weekend, okay?", I replied.She smiled and nodded, the memory of the moment quickly fading back into the deep recesses of her confused mind. I looked over at the the other residents sitting beside her. They looked back at me with hollow eyes and sad hearts. I wondered what they were thinking, or if their thoughts were even coherent anymore. I quickly headed to the door, leaving the sad, bewildering stares behind.
My visit with Ms. Eunice troubled me as I thought about her failing memory, and disoriented behavior. How much longer would she last in that state? And would she be better off if God would just grant her wish and take her to be with her beloved Albert. I said a quick prayer for her as I drove away from the nursing home. Lord, take care of her and give her peace, even if it means taking her Home.
Sometimes, there's a fate worse than death....
On my last visit with Ms. Eunice the week before, I promised faithfully I would return the next week. But as the days slipped swiftly by, I realized it was Friday and I had not yet been to visit. She had already scolded me once for missing a visit. I was NOT about to let her down again. I readjusted my schedule and was able to make it to the nursing home around three on Friday afternoon.
The door to Ms. Eunice's room was pulled to, so I knocked gently, then cracked it open to see if she was in - and awake. "All these people ever do in this place is SLEEP", I remember her telling me in a previous visit. And sleep they did! Just upon my arrival that day, I encountered three residents in the lobby, all three sound asleep in their wheelchairs, oblivious to the comings and goings around them. And in our walks up and down the corridors each week, Ms. Eunice would comment on how the other residents just stayed in their rooms and slept. "Not me, I can't just sit in this room all day long and sleep!" she'd affirm. Except in the evenings when she was given her nightly sleep aid. Otherwise, "I'd just lie awake and be depressed all night, too", she justified.
"It's me, Ms. Eunice," I announced as I entered her room. "I know you didn't think I was going to make it back this week, but I did!" I reached over and gave her a big hug.
"Well, I'm so glad you did. I didn't know. A lot of people tell me they're going to come back, but they never do" she replied with a hint of doubt.
"Well, I told you I would, and I try not to break my promises. So here I am. Better late than never, right?" She seemed genuinely glad to see me, and offered me a seat.
Although she was still getting around quite well, I noticed her demeanor was much more subdued than in past visits. She seemed dazed and confused. Forgetful and bewildered. She couldn't even remember her sister's name - the one she spoke so often about in our past visits. Yet, ironically, she could remember vivid details of years gone by. Was it a bit of Alzheimer's setting in or something more pathological, I wondered. She had told me on my last visit that they had increased her meds to control her constant back pain from a spinal fracture. But I wondered if maybe there wasn't more to it. In fact, I wondered if maybe Ms. Eunice wasn't the ONLY one there who was "medically subdued."
As we talked, Ms. Eunice struggled to remember from one week to the next; often repeating herself or misunderstanding my questions. It was a strained and uncomfortable visit for us both. But I was determined to "act normal", hoping she wouldn't sense my concern and worry about her faltering memory and confused behavior. I suspected right away it was the insidious side effects of the additional medications she had recently been prescribed. She definitely wasn't the same Ms. Eunice I had visited with just two weeks prior.
We talked about the usual things - who had been to visit (no one but her son this week), what she had been eating (mostly the junk snack food she had hidden in her room), and her longing to visit her cancer-stricken son in Virginia. Along with visiting her sister, Margaret, she insisted once her son was better, she was going to stay with him a couple of days as well. The faraway hopes of escaping her demented prison lit a dim light in her otherwise dark, vision-less eyes. She repeated these wishes over and over to me, a gleam of hope in her eyes each time.
Noticing her ever-decreasing weight loss, I asked her what she had been eating good lately. "Oh, not much of anything. Just same old stuff", she answered back. I reached in my purse and pulled out the bag of candy I had brought for her - the weekly chocolate treat she so looked forward to.
"Well, guess what I brought you this week - chocolate peanut butter cups! Do you like those?" "
Oooo, I LOVE those things!" she exclaimed.
"Me, too. In fact, this was my favorite candy when I was a kid!" I said. She seemed excited over this week's treat so I decided to go ahead and open the bag for her. "Let's have one, okay? I'm kind of hungry!" I took one out of the bag and handed the wrapped candy to her.
"There's a wrapper on them now", I warned,not sure if she could feel the paper on the candy. "Want me to get it off for you?" I offered.
"I know", she replied, having already removed the candy from its wrapper. "I can get it; I'm not helpless, you know!"
Her pride in being able to do for herself was the thing I admired most about Ms. Eunice. Even in her disabled and depressed state, she still insisted on "not being a burden" to anyone. Her relentless will to live a "normal life", despite the odds, was not only inspiring, but amazing as well for a woman of her age and limitations. In her mind, she seemed perpetually young, though her body often argued the point with her.
"Oh, I know you're not. It's just that sometimes they're kind of hard to get off." However, she didn't struggle in the least with the wrapper. The agility with which she handled things amazed me. Even though she couldn't "see" details or colors, she was very adept at picking up objects and "feeling" her surroundings. She"saw" with her hands and used them quite a bit to see the world around her. I felt bad that I had insulted the special abilities she possessed, even with her limited vision.
I hadn't been there long when she asked me if I'd walk down the hall with her, even though she had walked earlier by herself. "I'm afraid to go too far by myself - I got turned around one time and didn't know if I'd find my way back", she told me.
So off we went, side by side down the somber, dismal halls of the place she called "home". Ironically, it was to her credit that she couldn't see the depressing gray walls, and the dejected faces of the residents that were straggled up and down each hall. Still, she insisted on speaking to the faceless forms she passed, whispering to me, "did you notice how they don't speak back?" If only she knew how much worse off they were than she, although most were much younger!
As we reached the end of one hall, she'd again tell me how she got confused about which way to go. The thought of being lost again terrified her, the fear settling in the lines and wrinkles of her face. I assured her she was not lost, and that we most certainly could get back to her room. Yet, when I pointed out the way back, she insisted I must be wrong, asking, "are you sure this is the way back?" Her heightened confusion and disorientation greatly concerned me as much as it scared her. As we made our way back to her room, she seemed relieved to be back in a "safe place", even though it was the same place she felt confined and alone.
While we were visiting, I received a phone call from a client who needed to see me. "I'm going to have to leave very soon, Ms. Eunice", I informed her.
"Oh, you got to go meet a man?" she asked teasingly.
"Oh no, nothing like that! It's a client I have to see", I reassured her. "Oh", she replied with a laugh.
Ms. Eunice has such a fun sense of humor. She joked and carried on with me about a lot of things, especially men. I told her she ought to find her a "man-friend" there - someone to dine with or just talk to. "Why do I need a man at MY age?" she asked. "We can't do nothing!" she said in a matter-of-fact tone.
"Well, there ARE other things you can do besides THAT", I said. She'd just laugh and insist that she wasn't interested in men, indicating that all they wanted was "one thing". I laughed and agreed, realizing that her heart could never belong to another since losing her beloved Albert.