A nursing home? Yes, a nursing home. On a Sunday evening in May at 6:10, surrounded by love and caring, Mum died. She would have been 81 in July. Her life was exciting and interesting with kids and grandkids, travel, volunteer work and a husband who had adored her for over 50 years. I miss her. Her loving smiles, her laughter, and easy tease. But she died surrounded by love.
It was another warm Sunday in May, a year earlier, when I had driven away from the nursing home, leaving my mother. I remember the words that day of Doreen, the RN in charge, with her hand on my shoulder she said, "It's okay we'll take care of her" and you know what, they did. From bathroom detail to whirlpool baths, from getting her in and out of chairs, in and out of bed. Dressing and undressing her, making sure her hair was done and makeup on. They not only took care of her, they cared for her.
An adult child is never prepared for "the nursing home decision." My head said the decision was right, my heart felt broken. Oh yes, I had done all the right things, the investigation of other nursing homes, the visits, the questions, the signing of papers. I knew that Armview Estates was good but would they really take care of Mum?
It had been 18 months since her husband had suddenly died. A relationship of over 50 years abruptly ended. Mum had lived alone in her apartment, though she had daily help with meals, housework, laundry and lifeline (I've fallen and I can't get up). A stint in the hospital confirmed it was time she needed full-time care. I talked to her for hours about the nursing home, what it would be like, what it looked like, what things she would like to bring from her apartment.
She finally started talking like it was her decision to go to the nursing home, a healthy sign, but in reality I had manipulated the situation.
On that Sunday in May I drove away hoping Doreen was right, reassuring myself that it was the correct decision. It was a desolate feeling. Never did I realize that day that Mum was going to have a new family, a family of personal care workers, registered nurses, CNAs, laundry workers, cleaning staff and kitchen staff.
A few weeks later, while visiting with Mum she said, "This is a place you come to die." I replied adamantly with my ever positive attitude, "No Mum, this is a place you come to live." She smiled, a knowing smile.
Though she used a pink neon wheelchair to get around, it was still difficult to watch her physically deteriorate. Through the year she lived in her "new home" as she called it. Mum nourished, not physically (age was taking its course) but mentally and emotionally.
Following that last hospital stay, she told her doctor, the staff and me, that she wasn't going back to the hospital no matter what happened... she wanted to stay home, her home, the nursing home.
On that May evening at 6:10, she died in her own bed surrounded by her things, in her "home" but most importantly, she was surrounded by people who cared and loved her: the staff at Armview.
People named Doreen, Dawn, Sheila, Mary, Bev, Allison, Heather, Weldon, and Tammy, had become Mother's family. She vicariously lived through them. She knew about their children, their spouses and boyfriends, and their vacations. She understood their hopes and dreams. Mum was the quintessential mother /grandmother type, she enjoyed people, delighted in listening to them and they loved her.
Everyone at the nursing home kidded Mum on how spoiled she was. But so, too, were the other residents; the staff made every resident fell special. A nursing home is not some forgotten facility, it is not a warehouse for the dying. It is a living, vibrant place. From morning exercises, to bingo and happy hour, writing dubs, residents' council and field trips - all are a daily part of life.
I watched a oncevibrant woman who lost the zest for life when Dad died, thrive under the attention and care of the nursing home staff.
I am not sure if there is ever an easy transition from life to death. The death process I don't believe is smooth for the people who are staying behind or the person who is going on. As I sat there holding Mum's hand alone in her room after she could no longer recognize me and after the staff had left the room I wondered who these wonderful caregivers are, these unsung heroes. The real heroes in life who had loved my mother and cared for her. People like you and me, who have the job of physically caring for the elderly, the disabled, the sick. They do their job and do it well. They were there for Mum day in and day out. They listened to her, talked to here, made her smile. They were there when she was angry, sad, or lonely. They were the ones who said good morning to her and they were the last voices she heard at night.
The people most important in life and dying are those who are at the bottom of the pay scale. We pay baseball players millions to hit a ball.. .we call a basketball player a role model, a hero.. .the real heroes are the staff who loved Mum when she was old and sick and tired...all the money and possessions made no difference at the end. We all need people who will look after us, hold our hands, wash our faces, change our bed and be there. These are the real heroes.
Mum died in a nursing home, surrounded by love, surrounded by her extended family. She died among people who are overworked, underpaid and under appreciated.
Yes, Mum was right when she said the nursing home was a place to die.