Thursday, February 9, 2017

It's Not the Same

I wrote this last fall.  Virginia did not come to our home for Thanksgiving.  Her niece came to Texas for a visit!  And, the Keebler lady passed away just after Christmas.  She is lonely no more!

This world filled with billions of people can be a lonely place for the elderly.  As the pace of walking slows and physical activity diminishes, some of them get left behind.  They just can't keep up.  The clock ticks slowly.  Blaring TVs fill the silence.  It breaks my heart.

Meems, who dozes in her wheelchair most of the day, once told me that she gets lonely when I'm not there.  She is surrounded by loving caregivers and plays Bingo aplenty.  But, according to her, "it's not the same."  Pangs of guilt rack my body when I think about how I only visited her once or twice a week before this last broken hip.  I kept trying to excuse my lack of vigilance with the explanation that the long drive across town to the facility she lived in at the time.  "It's 20 minutes away, so coming and going takes FORTY minutes!  Then, when you add in a 20 minute visit, that's AN HOUR PER VISIT!"  I rounded up the commute time to 20 minutes.  From 15 minutes.  In Lubbock.  On the loop.  With no traffic.

The truth:  I didn't enjoy being in her environment.  She lived in a memory care facility.  Though it was bright and cheery, it was also...well...depressing.  Surrounded by people with Alzheimers and severe dementia, Meems began to retreat inside of herself.  She once told me that most of the people in her unit were "half crazy."  Never mind the fact that she often asked me to bring her some cash so that she could pay for her meals at the "restaurant."  "I need a twenty, a couple of tens and some ones for tipping."  She made a point of reminding me that Obama was the president and that the year was 2015.  Those are a couple of questions on the dementia test.  "I'm not crazy."

So, this last broken hip was actually a blessing in disguise.  The long hospital stay and even longer recovery at a rehab facility made it necessary to give up her room in the memory care unit.  (It's a long-term healthcare policy "thang.")  A room came available at a sister facility  (same owners, same good "vibe") 5 minutes from my house.  Hobbled by her inability to walk unassisted, she was no longer considered an "escape risk."  (Well, she never really was an escape risk because she can't run very fast.)  She now lives amongst your average octogenarians as well as some nonagenarions.*  Some have minds as sharp as tacks.  Others can't find their rooms after supper.  The residents talk more at the supper table than those in memory care.  The alert assist the not-so-alert.  "Helen, you dropped a meatball in your lap."  Meems is beginning to perk up.  She is telling her stories to all who will listen.  Most of them are true.

The ladies in her unit have elevated me to sainthood simply because I pop in to see Meems every day.  Sometimes I'm there for an hour.  Sometimes I do a "drive by" and just run in for a hug.  They have labeled me a "good daughter."  When I hear that, I feel like an imposter because my good-daughtering kicked in late in the game.  Mom is 90 years old.  It has taken me this long to "get it."

The lady who lives across the hall from Mom has no children.  Her only living relatives are an elderly sister that lives in a tiny town about 40 minutes away and can no longer drive "into town" and a niece who lives in Idaho.  I invited her to Thanksgiving at our house.  Her face lit up.  She's thinking about it.  "I need to see what my family is going to do."  Always hopeful.  Another has an only child that rarely visits.  She naps on the couch in her room all day out of boredom.  "Come by and visit me sometime when you are here visiting your mom!" she says, "I've got some chocolate chip cookies and chocolate milk in my room!"  I've had the cookies - Keebler Chips Deluxe, Soft and Chewy, stored in a mini-fridge - but usually pass on the chocolate milk.

I have to remind myself not to sit in judgment of the adult children I've never met.  Maybe they pop in the mornings.  I'm an afternoon visitor.  Maybe they are dealing with health problems.  Maybe both of their legs are broken.  I give them a lot of grace because until Mom broke her hip again last January, I was amongst their ranks.  I delegated caregiving to the paid caregivers.  Now I know.  Meems is right.  It's not the same.

I need to run call my mother-in-law.  She lives in a wonderful independent living facility across town (11-minute drive) that pulses with activity. She's made lots of friends and is flourishing.  But, it's not the same.  It's just not the same.

*I googled "What are people in their 90s called."  Nonagenarians.  I think that in the greek translation it means "are you still here!? Because, you're "non" supposed to be."  If you reach the age of 100 you are dubbed "Centenarian."  Centenarian sounds like a honor kind of like Valedictorian.

Here's the best part.  I'm about to turn 60.  Wait for it...wait for it...
I will soon be a SEXAGENARIAN.  Hope springs eternal.

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