Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A Second Look--March 30, 2016

The goldfinch are changing from their dull winter colors to their bright summer colors .


Spring is the season with the most dramatic changes as the world emerges from its dullness. Yesterday, I was surprised by one of these changes. There was a brightly colored goldfinch on the feeder. Both the males and females have been a muted, yellow-gray all winter, but yesterday I saw the brilliant yellow color that they are so well known for. (I guess the males are sprucing up to attract the females.)

Changes have been very much on my mind recently after a visit with my mother in a nursing home. During my visit, I spent many hours every day with her and observed a lot of things.  I saw people whose bodies and, sometimes, minds were wearing out. Basic everyday functions that I took for granted, most residents needed help with. This makes a nursing home a difficult place to visit for many including me. The most difficult part of all of this was imagining myself reaching this point some day besides the obvious grieving for losses my mother suffers.

Ward pushing my mother on a walking
path they have. Another positive.
But after a little time, I started to see past the problems and started to see the people underneath their aging bodies. And they were not all a miserable bunch. I saw some with new found contentment as they no longer had to worry about how they were going to care for themselves. I saw others who found out that they liked certain foods that they thought they didn't like. I also saw some who were very happy with the social aspect of things and were present at every activity. And yet another with dementia who forgot she liked to smoke. In other words, many of the residents had found the positive in the changes that had brought them there.

But even more than realizing that one can be happy anywhere, I was comforted to know that the basic personality of someone still shines through from the beginning of life to the end. There was a man who were unable to speak, but had on clothes from his favorite sports team every day. There were some who noticed every detail in the room and others who only saw what was in front of them. There were some who were quiet and others who were quite talkative. All things they did before. My favorite story about this is the sense of humor that one woman still has.

My mother's roommate, Elsie,  is 98 years old and has never been married. While she is bedridden, she still has a very good mind and sense of humor. One evening one of the staff sat down and talked with her for a while and as she was leaving said, "Now, Elsie, if you need anything, just let me know." To which Elsie said with a twinkle, "Well, it certainly won't be a man!" That comment has made me smile for days.

While my mind continues to sort out both the global and personal issues associated with aging and end of life, I am starting to come to understand that although the changes can be quite dramatic, underneath them all, it's just another phase of a person's life.


  1. It is hard to see our loved ones lose some of their abilities. But I think your perspective is healthy. We may lose some things, but then we gain in others. When my grandmother had a stroke and moved into a nursing home, it was sad to see her lose her independence. But what she gained were loving people who cared for her daily, and gave her interaction that she was missing when she lived alone in her own home. And some folks seem to really thrive in retirement/nursing homes. A friend of mine's FIL has been absolutely loving his retirement facility, as it gives hi so many opportunities to be social.

    That Elsie sounds like a character!! What a fun resident to have there!

    1. Elsie has a lot of family around and has a lot of visitors. That's good for my mother also since we all live so far away. In fact, one of my best friends from high school is Elsie's niece and I got to see her this last trip.

      Ward's grandmother had a stroke and had to move to a nursing home like your grandmother. After she got better, she loved being there. In fact, if you came to visit during bingo, she wouldn't talk to you. She had to go play. She had been isolated before this and really thrived in the more social setting.

  2. Oh, goodness, there are so many aspects to nursing home living and you touched on a lot of them. When my dad entered memory care last year, I had many mixed emotions. I was relieved that he was in a safer setting and that mom wasn't the primary caretaker for him any more. I was surprised, though, at how difficult it was for me to go there to visit him. I don't know how else to describe it except for a feet-dragging feeling. And it was also hard to watch my mom's reaction. I don't know if it was a "good" thing or not, but I did find that it gave me time to process my feelings of mourning and loss.

    I think some of the difficulty I had with the facility he was in was that it was a newly opened facility and they weren't experienced at what they were doing. Many aspects of his care were good but other parts of it, not so much. I wanted his remaining days to be as positive as possible, with the best care possible. I hope you are pleased with where your mom is. I like the picture of Ward taking her for a walk in the nice weather. It's the little things that can brighten someone's day.

    1. We are happy where she is. While no place is perfect, it meets her needs well. I think she is relieved that the other shoe has dropped and she has finally moved from her home. One of her worries was what was going to happen when she just couldn't handle being at home any more. Well, that has happened and she has seen that it's not too bad. In fact, she seems content overall, and that takes a lot of weight off of our shoulders.

      My father didn't adjust as quickly, but he eventually did. It is a hard decision to make, as you know, and I'm sure you did the best thing for your father and your mother. That's something that needs to be taken into consideration--the spouse/caregiver. You can't totally sacrifice one for another. It's very complicated.

      I like the picture of Ward and my mother also. The hospital/nursing home is in a wonderful setting. It is on top of a hill with woods around it. When you go outside, it is very peaceful and you don't hear anything but birds singing. The walking path is just outside the hospital and is well used by everyone in the town. We were lucky that when we were there that it was warm enough to take my mother out for a walk several times (five, I think.)

  3. CatMan lost his mother many years ago to Alzheimer's - and he said the hardest part of it all was watching her become more and more debilitated until she was just in bed with a diaper not able to really engage the world. He said that for a long time he dealt with terrible fear that he might suffer a similar fate - and how horrible it would be to end up bedridden and completely unable to care for himself.

    But as he worked through it all he said he came to the realization that when he was a tiny baby he was essentially bedridden and completely dependent on others for his every need - and that wasn't horrible, it was just another phase of life.

    He's also told me stories about what it was like to be around his mother once she no longer recognized him. On the surface most of us would think that would be a horrible thing. But he said that in a funny way that experience was a tremendous gift. It's like, when you have a relationship with a person - mother/son, husband/wife, sister/brother - whatever the case may be - your interactions with that person tend to be bound up with the relationship. We act like parents & children, and we tend to censor our conversations & interactions to ones that we deem "appropriate" for the relationship. But once she no longer recognized him, it was like all of that stuff fell away and he got the unique opportunity to interact with his mother just as another person - and see her outside of the framework of the mother/son relationship - and he said it was actually quite gratifying.

    Anyhow, I'm so sorry that your mom is having to go through the difficulties of age related changes - but as you said there really are positives in every situation. I think it's just hard for most of us to let go of our ideas about how we want things to be in order to allow the blessings of "what is" to surface.

    Big Hugs...

    1. My father had Alzheimer's but died of heart failure before he reached the point where he had forgotten everything from his past. However, he got very quiet and said little. I think coming up with the words to form new sentences just got too hard. But he used a wink and a smile with occasional words to communicate well. In fact, he was known to have a good sense of humor around the nursing home.

      What I found comforting was something I mentioned above--he was basically who he had always been. He still scanned the room to keep track of everything. He found the best window and would spend a lot of time watching the deer, birds, and wildlife outside. And when we'd visit, he'd try to give Ward the best food from his dinner. These were so much like the father I knew, that it made me smile despite the fact, that the brilliant mind I knew was no longer there.

      My mother has dementia which is taking a little different form that my father's. The best part about that is that it has taken away a lot of her anxiety. She had plenty, so it's not all gone, but she is more at peace than she was. With her, you just never know where her mind is going to be, so you just meet her wherever she is at that time. It could be in the here and now working just fine, or in the past, or in some place new altogether.

      I find Catman's comment about the new interactions with his mother after most of her past was stripped from her very interesting. That's a great way to look at things.

  4. My mother went into a nursing home, but they tied her to a chair and she only got a shower every few days. It was a horrible place. But finally near her end, my brother got her into a small group home with five residents, where she was well cared for. So I do fear ending up in a place like that one, where they were horribly understaffed. Sounds like your mom is in a good one. Another woman I know visited her mother in one and said one woman in another room she visited because her family didn't visit had two different TV's stolen. She said things were not stolen from folks whose family visited as much. I don't want to go to one.

    1. So sorry to hear about your mother's treatment in an nursing home. I don't know when that was, but these days, it is illegal for a person to be restrained without either family or physician approval, and it is to be for a specific reason (for example, striking out at staff and not able to be calmed down) and for a specific length of time. Legal action can be pursued if all the I's aren't dotted or the T's crossed. When I get closer to the age/health status where I might need a facility, you can bet I will be doing some serious shopping around to find the better institutions.

    2. I don't think any of us would choose to get to the place where we need to go to a nursing home. However, sometimes that's the best place to keep everyone safe and cared for. Like Kris said, nursing homes have come a long way in the last several years and there are a lot of laws controlling them. My cousin used to run a small one, but sold it because the regulations were driving her crazy. A small crack in the sidewalk in front of the dumpsters where no patients ever went got a citation. And she had several more examples like that. While there are still problems, there are many fewer than before.

      As far as stealing, small things do disappear because some residents no longer have a sense of what's theirs and what's someone elses. However, these things usually turn up again. It seems like it would be hard to steal someone's TV, but I guess it happens. Where my mother is now, TV's are mounted on the wall.


What do you think?