You can layer as much brightness and cheeriness as you want onto the bones of the situation. Big windows, decent carpet, solid furniture. A copious bird cage is nice; pretty finches play inside for the entertainment of the residents and guests.
Surroundings are clean. There are neither acrid nor antiseptic smells. Only a too-loud TV (too loud for guests, at least) disturbs the peace. The staff is upbeat and professional. The grounds are safe.
But it remains a nursing home. It is a place few choose to go, whatever efforts may be made to assure comfort. Residents in wheelchairs stare at the floor, and you can sense the loneliness and regret like ancient woodsmoke.
I have visited my parents’ nursing home in Pittsburgh for the last time. I helped them pack to move to a new one in Milwaukee, nearer my brother. Now they will be within seven minutes of him instead of both of us being hours away. My brother plans to stay in Wisconsin; I can’t say for sure how long my family will stay in Florida. So Milwaukee it is.
“How did we end up like this?” my mother has moaned, more than once, usually to cap off a gusher of complaints about the food, the staff, something else about the nursing home they are leaving. (She’s right about the food, but not the staff.) Her galloping memory problems unsettle her moment by moment. My Dad, sharp mentally but confined to a wheelchair, desires and frets only for her happiness. Hence this move, expertly orchestrated by my brother. We’re not sure it will be better, but it won’t be worse. The closeness to my brother (and his two grandchildren in Minneapolis) should be reward enough.
My friends and I have reached the age of dealing with parental decline. Even old high school classmates, friends only in the Facebook sense, commiserate with me about the heart-wrenching changes we see, their effect intensified by the real fear that the same may happen to us. What are we doing? Is it right? Shouldn’t we do more? What if we can’t?
But…could you ever do enough? If you tripled the time, the money, the effort…praise God, the patience…would it ever feel like enough? If it did, perhaps there would be a horizon to your love. And that is more fearsome than any other shortcoming.
Quantity of effort is certainly important, but quality more so. In this day and age, did your parents really give you life just to keep accounts? With some generational debt in mind? Not likely. They would fade like a mist, and gladly, if they could be assured that doing so would buy you a fulfilling life.
And so you want to help them all the more. But never keep tabs on yourself. There is no enough, and yet whatever you do is enough. Your heart will report back to you on the purity of your effort. Just keep making it.♦
©2013 Adam Barr