I was celebrating a friend’s birthday with a small group recently and of course our conversation turned toward getting older. Several of us have had experiences with parents and other loved ones that have spent their last days in various levels of care-giving residences. It’s a tough thing to think about whether you are in the child’s role, as we have all been, or in the aging parent’s position, as we wondered if we would be one day.
One friend lightened the mood by sharing a discussion she had with her two sons. As a single mom, she realizes that in the future her boys may very well be looking out for her. “All I ask of them is that they find a nice facility for me when the time comes. And I asked them to find an aid there and tip them regularly to be sure and pluck my chin hairs. I know they won’t do that for me themselves, but if they can find an aid at the place that will keep me neat, I can be happy.” We all had a good laugh at that, but it does make you stop and think about what’s ahead.
I have a dear friend whose mother has Alzheimer’s and has been in assisted living and now in a nursing home for many, many years. She has not spoken for the last four or five years and has had a number of illnesses that have weakened her in other ways, too. My friend visits her often and regrets that she can’t do more. She was disappointed when her sister said that their mom was no longer the mother she knew, and even though my friend knows that to be true, it doesn’t make her love her mother one bit less. I told my friend that with all her mother has working against her, she is a blessed woman to have such a wonderful and devoted daughter.
My husband’s mother spent the last four years of her life in a nursing home, losing mobility day by day due to arthritis and other ailments. She was well cared for, yet it had to have been hard for her to give up so much of her independence. But she never once complained about anything (except for the food). Her graciousness during that time will always be a reminder of how one can respond even in difficult circumstances.
Several years ago my husband and I were privileged to care for his grandmother during her last days. She had congestive heart failure and became so weak she had to go to a nursing home. While there she improved so much that we were able to move her, briefly, to an assisted living facility. We brought the furniture from her home that she asked for, and I will never forget the day she walked into her room and saw her “things.” Her face lit up and her eyes shone, and we left her there that day going through some of her mementos, pictures, and special possessions that were in her cedar chest. It was such a simple thing for us to be able to bring her so much joy – just to move a few pieces of her furniture and other things there for her to reminisce with – things that she thought she would never see again.
Her stay there was brief, and she had to return to the nursing home. The last time we visited her that she was able to talk to us, she gave us a lasting gift. It was one evening after dinner, and her room was quiet and still. Again that night her eyes shone as she spoke of what she saw. “Don’t be afraid of this time in your life when it comes. I can hear the angels singing. I see a lovely place full of light and peace. Don’t be fearful of this when you are old one day. This is a beautiful time.” This was the last piece of a wonderful legacy she left with us that guides us still.