When I was a little kid, my father used to visit his aunt Carrie in a nursing home. Every once in a while, I would go with him. I remember walking down the halls and seeing lots of old people. I never really understood what they were doing in that place. And I never understood why we visited Aunt Carrie. We couldn’t play with her, and she didn’t talk much. We certainly never enjoyed the visits; we dreaded them. What was the point of visiting?
Last week, my mom’s assisted living facility told me she has to move into a nursing home. She has a problem they can’t manage. Something is wrong with her ability to swallow, and so all of her liquids need to be thickened; otherwise fluid might enter her lungs and cause pneumonia. In the dining room, the servers make sure her drinks are thickened. But when she gets thirsty in her own room, she can’t remember that it’s dangerous to have a glass of water. She drinks and puts herself at risk. The staff can’t control her.
So like Aunt Carrie, my mom will live out her last days in a nursing home, where everything she puts into her mouth will be handed to her by the staff. She’ll be safe from herself. But her life will be smaller than ever.
All of her possessions will shrink down into whatever can fit into a closet and a night stand. She’ll have a bed and a curtain to separate her from a roommate. If she’s lucky, she’ll have a window.
The worst part is that she’s not ready for a nursing home. She can still walk and feed herself, bathe, dress, and go to the bathroom on her own. She waters her plants and washes the dishes in the apartment where she currently lives in the assisted living facility. Sure, she gets confused, and she can’t remember where she’s supposed to go all the time, but she knows enough to smile, say hello, and compliment all the people she meets. They look out for her and point her in the right direction.
I’m sure she’ll make friends in the new place, but it’s not going to be easy.
“I never imagined my life would turn out like this,” she says, trying to figure out how she got picked up and deposited into the unfamiliar setting where she now spends all of her days. How will she feel when it changes, again?
When I was a kid, I never thought that one day I’d put my mom into a nursing home.