I just had an unusually well-timed emergency. My mother, in Assisted Living in Georgia, took a fall and injured her leg, after which they put her in a wheelchair since she was unable to safely walk. As it happened I already had airline reservations to fly to Georgia this week. So I was with Mom at the doctor, who thought it may be a hairline fracture. The doctor took X-rays and prescribed Ibuprofen and physical therapy. The doctor also took her off sleeping pills. Since sleeping pills can make a person groggy and prone to falls, I’m all for that. Mom got mixed up when the nurse’s aide explained why there was one less pill last night. Mom took it to be no more Namenda – the Alzheimer’s drug. I checked up on it for her. Lunesta is the pill that has correctly been dropped out of the pill cup. In the meantime, the physical therapist is teaching Mom how to use a walker, which will be safer than walking unaided, and far better than her being stuck in a wheelchair.
Mom is feeling better and more like herself – her Alzheimer’s self, which is chronically forgetful and vague and sometimes paranoid but, fortunately, still appreciative of the natural world. The dining hall at the Gardens at Calvary has big windows with views of a creek watershed out back, pines and deciduous trees in fall colors, and yesterday at lunch Mom looked out and recited an old scrap of poetry or song: “The world is so full of beautiful things that we all should be happy as kings.”* Today she told me that she is very fond of the potted flowers on her porch and waters them all along. They are artificial flowers but it’s the thought that counts.
It’s not like all is well again or can be. She’s almost 89 years old with Alzheimer’s and an injured hip. But she’s in a good, caring facility – thank God she can afford that on her teacher’s pension and Social Security – and she’s not in pain. Maybe what she feels about her situation is similar to what I feel and think: that all is good enough for now. Tomorrow will bring what it brings. And so will the day after.
*Wikiquotes says that a version of this is by Robert Louis Stevenson’s in A Child’s Garden of Verses.
The first time my mother and I ever visited the Gardens at Calvary, we noticed a bluebird perched in one of the slender trees on the Moon Road side of the grounds.
Mom was not happy to make such a visit at all. She was very reluctant to consider leaving her home of many years to move to assisted living. But the little bird with its bright blue back and rusty breast seemed like a good sign to both of us. There ‘s an old figure of speech—celebrated in at least one big band song—about the bluebird of happiness.
The hope of happiness came true.
For Mom, happiness is having friends and companions and living a place where she doesn’t need to manage all of life’s details by herself. It makes me happy to know that she’s safe in the care of capable and compassionate staff, in a building that’s attractive, well-designed, graced with natural light, and located beside a stream with trees and wild creatures.
For both of us, it matters that an assisted living facility be faith-based. One inescapable truth is that people in assisted living are fragile in body, mind or both. They exist in a holy place, not very far from death, and therefore closer than most of the rest of us to the nearer presence of God. That truth needs to be honored. At the Gardens, it is. Vern Jordin is an able chaplain. I’ve attended his Sunday services with Mom. The flock is small and fragile; Chaplain Vern cares for each one of them tenderly. When Mom’s last living sibling died a couple of years ago, Chaplain Vern sought Mom out minutes after I spoke to the staff in the front office. He sat with us in the private dining room while the news sank in. Mom was able to begin to grieve for her brother there, in that sheltered place and time.
Last fall, I finally visited the Greenhouse—the special Alzheimer’s place up the road from the Gardens. Knowing that Mom may one day need to live in the Greenhouse, I had to see how it felt. It felt gentle and good. Now I know not to be afraid of Mom being there in her final days.
This is the third springtime since we first visited the Gardens. There are still bluebirds around. My mother and I are happy that she found an unexpected new home at the Gardens at Calvary, thanks be to God.