Nursing homes can be expectedly awful. Nursing homes can be unexpectedly wonderful – like how the Nurses’ Aides dress Mom so that her clothes match and carefully comb her hair. She looks better coordinated and more kempt than when she was in Assisted Living and dressing herself with Alzheimer’s eroding her ability to do so.
There is a certain little old pillow that stayed in her closet in Assisted Living, and which I put in her closet in the nursing home. It’s nearly as old as Mom herself – ninety years old – because it was hand made for her by my grandmother when she was a little child. I thought a time would come when that little old pillow should go onto the bed although I think she has forgotten the significance of it (and almost everything else.) But she has been sleeping more and more as she loses the ability to talk or even smile. Two afternoons ago when I visited her, she was in bed, comfortably asleep, with the head of the bed raised somewhat and extra pillows to help prop her up – with the little old pillow tucked over her shoulder for her head to rest on. God bless those Nurses’ Aides.
Music is something people remember and respond to when almost all else is lost.
Yesterday there was a singalong at my mom’s nursing home. It is at least a weekly event, when a lady brings sheet music and song word books and plays the piano in the downstairs event room for those residents who get there on their own or who are brought by the staff. The songs are golden oldies like “Red Red Robin,” “Grand Old Flag,” “Sidewalks of New York” and others familiar to these folks from their youth or adulthood. Wheelchair-bound and more or less feeble, a couple of the residents knew just about every word of every song by heart and could sing along. Other residents wordlessly enjoyed the songs. My mother seemed pretty far out of it, half asleep and nearly motionless. But I noticed one of her hands gesturing in time to some of the songs. And she took her foot out of the wheelchair’s footrest and put it on the floor and tapped her toes for “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”
My mother has been failing slowly all year. Then she had a health crisis in the summer. After two ambulance trips to the emergency room and a five-day hospital stay, crisis turned into catastrophe and landed her in long term care in a nursing home in Georgia. Since she is ninety years old and has had Alzheimers for years this was not exactly a surprise. It grieved me, though, and I think it grieved her while she still had hold of that part of her memory, that she couldn’t return to the wonderful assisted living facility where she was safe and happy for four and a half years. But there was an up side: no more reason not to bring her to Houston. I was able to get her to Houston and into a reputable facility called the Treemont.
As soon as the first mildly cool front of the year blew in, I took my mother on what may have been our last walk together. She was in the wheelchair she can never again not use. I pushed her on the sidewalks around the grounds of the Treemont. We looked at the flowers and acorns, leaves and oak trees. I plucked a morning glory flower from a bed of ground cover. She held onto that little purple flower all the way back into the building and upstairs to her floor.
She’s in worsening shape. Last night, it was all she could manage for me to push her to the end of the hall to look out the window at the clear cool sunset sky. She told me she wants to go home. I have no idea if she meant Assisted Living, or the modest little house on Mayfield Drive where she lived for f thirty years, or the farm where her family lived when she was a child. She is hardly articulate. I told her that she is very sick and has to be where nurses can take care of her day and night. And then I prayed with her, because now her once and future home is the nearer presence of God. May she get there in God’s good time soon.