Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Saints Be Praised

I wrote that title with an Irish accent in my head.

A little over a year ago, I left my job at the nursing home and began working in the editorial department of a magazine - a necessary shift to accomodate the emotional exhaustion I felt laboring among the forgotten, living memories of the past century - the 106 year old woman, the blind man with mental illness, the lady in her nineties mourning for her son who had just died - in his seventies.

I often think of the people there - the ones that are still living have experienced a year more of Bingo on Mondays, special musicians on Thursday afternoons, Santa delivering presents down the halls at Christmas, cards from family members tacked up on bulletin boards.

Here are a few things I learned from my time among the owls:

1) Grief is universal. A woman who loses her son grieves just as much if he was 76 as if he had been 26. Many residents in senior care facilities are grieving: the loss of children, the loss of siblings, the loss of spouses. Just because you're old doesn't mean it hurts less. Just because you're young doesn't mean it hurts more. Loss hurts.

2) Beauty is clearer in the midst of brokenness. There are intensely beautiful moments among catheter tubes, blaring game shows, and shelves of stuffed animals. One lady came every day to visit her husband - a former marine - who couldn't talk. She would cup his face in her hands and gently kiss him, and after lunch, when the aides laid him down for a nap, she would curl up next to him on the narrow bed until he went to sleep.

3) Being "old" is relative. Did you know 40 years can span the age differences among nursing home residents? There were 65 year olds and 105 year olds all living in the same facility, with varying levels of mental clarity and physical ability. Some just had bodies that were breaking down with COPD or cancer; some had able bodies and literally no short term memory. There is an amazing amount of diversity within the needs and wants of people who happen to live in nursing homes.

4) You can have friends sixty years older than you are. I cried - hard - when a lady named Happa suddenly died. I would sit in her room and read a James Herriott book aloud, and we would both chuckle at the antics of the veterinarian from 1930's England. Happa had been a nun at one point, and then a sociology professor. Some days, I still miss her.

I'll write more, soon, about my friends who returned to "dorm" living in their older years. But it's hard, still, because I miss them, and because it was never enough - no matter how many I helped, there were always more.


Kimberly said...

This was beautifully written!

Yay for Dr. Lyon! My grandmother was a pastor...

I recently went to Paula Deen's restaurant...awesome!

Random thoughts from a random lurker!:) (I would love to recommend your blog on mine....more people need to see your stuff! Please feel free to say yes or no! I'll check back here....

Elizabeth Glass-Turner said...

You may certainly link my blog. It also occasionally appears on, and in's religion and spirituality section.

Heather Clisby said...

What a beautiful and insightful post. I'm glad it didn't go on much longer, my eyes were getting pretty moist ...

What strikes me a)what an angel you are for doing that job and b)how we are all heading into the same biological break down. Old age is the great equalizer.