Before Christmas my emotions were running deep as I was trying to come terms with the fact that it was time for my mother to move into an extended care facility. I knew that it was the best thing for her, but also grieved as I thought about her leaving the home she had been in for many decades and the one I grew up in.
And then suddenly, a few days before Christmas, there was an opening. That turned up the emotions another notch as I thought about my mother spending Christmas away from home. But you gotta do, what you gotta do. As a result of this, my sister and I spent almost a week with her around Christmas helping her get settled in.
We spent long days in the new place trying to find the right balance between helping my mother and letting her adapt on her own to her new surroundings. During this time, we made friends with the staff. They were a friendly, professional, hard working, and funny group. We were happy that they were caring for our mother. (Interestingly enough, my mother was a nurse who worked on this unit many years ago and some of the current staff actually worked with her then.)
However, we had the best time meeting some of the other residents. I have been in several nursing homes before, but always with short visits to a particular person. Never long enough to get to know others like I did this time. There were a variety of people there, but most of them were in there 80's and 90's. A few of them had lost there ability to communicate in the traditional ways, but always responded well to eye contact and a smile. With others, it took a little time to figure out where their mind was taking them at that time, and yet others were always with you in the here and now. The biggest hindrance in the initial meetings was the hearing loss most of them suffered. However after the first meeting, we usually figured out how to communicate without much difficulty.
Some of them had lots of visitors and some had none, but they all were eager to tell their story--where they grew up, what their jobs had been, and who their family was. After a day or two, the conversations grew more intimate. Thelma told me about how it frustrates her that people think residents in places like this aren't smart. She said that most were quite smart. Bertha told me that she didn't like the holidays and couldn't wait for them to be over. They always made her sad. Emmogene told me how she was praying for my mother to get better.
The best day was Christmas Eve when Santa came to visit and brought multiple presents to each resident. He also had his picture taken with each person including my sister and me. Everyone was eager to see what was in their packages and we were as eager as they were. Even Bertha, who was sad at Christmas, was having a good time. So like Bertha, the Christmas I was dreading was actually turning out to be okay.
I'm home now and while I'm still trying to grasp this new phase of my mother's life, I feel much better. She seems to be adjusting and I know that she is surrounded by good people. I'm looking forward to the next visit to see my mother and all of the new friends I made.
Unfortunately, out of respect for others, I can't show any of the pictures from my visit.