The moment I dreaded is here

In the past few months, I’ve had to find a place for my aging mother to live where she can be safe and have her needs bigstock-nursing homemet. In other words, I’ve been most concerned about getting her the basic necessities – decent food, a clean atmosphere, prompt attention to her medical needs — not finding her a place where she can really live.

I never wanted to get to this moment.

I had hoped and prayed that Mom would be able to live out her days in the independent living community she moved to several years ago. It was clean, smelled good, was nicely decorated and the food bordered on excellent. She had a group of friends she ate with at every meal and felt at home in her one-bedroom apartment.

Game changing events

But that life came to a halt after a series of falls, two broken bones and two surgeries. It was more than she could bounce back from. Later this week, she’ll have to move to the nursing home wing of the rehab hospital she’s been in since late October.

I dread this eventuality. I’m sure Mom dreads it, too, more than I. It just seems to me that we ought to do better for our aging folks than to sentence them to nursing homes.

Who in their right mind thinks it’s humane to cram two people into one room and provide them with a curtain for so-called privacy? In what universe is it okay to prop people in wheelchairs and leave them, heads hanging, in front of a television set?

Even the best is unacceptable

The nursing home Mom is going to is considered one of the best in town. But I don’t want her living there. The terrible thing is, I don’t have a choice.

Mom can’t walk anymore and she has almost no strength, so she needs help transferring from bed to wheelchair. I can’t even get her in and out of my car without the help of two other people.

My distress is shared by thousands of other folks. On a recent Linked-In discussion group, the topic was whether young people with disabilities should live in long term care facilities, AKA nursing homes. One respondent from Brazil said in her country, it is not culturally acceptable to place family members in such settings.

She also remarked that family members can bring about change for their loved ones by being strong advocates. And finally, she said, the laws need to be updated to accommodate the growing aging population.

I agree with her 100 percent. But I also think in this country we need social and cultural change. Putting people away – whether they are aging or merely disabled – needs to become a thing of the past.

Surprised by Peace

Sometimes, you can find peace in unexpected places. That certainly happened to me one Sunday when I went to visit my Uncle Melrose at the nursing home where he lived.

Although it was considered a “good” nursing home, it wasn’t the happiest of places. I saw few smiles on any faces as I made my way to the end of a long wing, where my uncle shared a room with another man.

No one wanted to be there; not me and especially not my uncle, who had a profound intellectual disability. He was 78 years old and had been forced to move to the nursing home after he became too medically fragile. He had been happily living at a group home, where he had friends, work and daily activities.

I used to go get him at the group home and take him out for hamburgers and for a drive around the park. He loved it. He had always loved riding in the car and now, because he was so frail, we couldn’t even do that.

Sitting on the front porch

When I got to Uncle Melrose’s room, I helped him out of bed and into his wheelchair and wheeled him into the kitchen, where we got him a glass of apple juice. Then we headed for the front porch.

It was a balmy day – perfect for sitting outside and watching the cars go by. I pulled up a chair next to him and watched him sip juice. Like always, we didn’t talk. Uncle Melrose couldn’t say very many words. Only “Yes,” “No,” and “Where are we going?”

My plan was to sit with him for a few minutes and then head out to church. But the more I sat with him, the more peaceful I became. There was something about being around my ailing, disabled uncle that brought me a sense of calm.

I decided it would be silly to leave him alone and go to church. I couldn’t get any closer to God than I already was. So I stayed and in peace, the two of us watched the cars go by for the next two hours.