For years I passed the complex that houses the building that Aldo is now staying in. At this point it only has three sections to it. One is an apartment complex dedicated for the elderly who can still fend for themselves. Another for assisted living, and the third, the building Aldo is in, is the Nursing home. When the complex first opened, all the buildings were owned by one commercial entity. Now I have heard that they were sold, and each is owned separate from the others. It is a nice complex. The grounds are well kept, quiet, pleasant, just another group of buildings that I see at least three times a week as I go about my business. Of course the seeing part is changing; I am getting inside, a world all to itself, a little universe if you will.
Now I am getting intimately acquainted with the nursing home. I suppose the actual experience of outsiders is unique to each one, though I suppose there are many connections there, but with each visit the connections might become more tenuous.
Also, what one believes about reality, would also help to color the experience. For some the world of nursing homes is one of unremitting grey, moving into black. A warehouse for keeping the elderly out of sight, hence out of mind, which of course has a thread of truth to it. There are so many threads that make up a tapestry, so many colors, some beautiful others perhaps not, it really depends on the one viewing, experiencing.
One lens is faith, something that I have, always had, and hopefully over time, it deepens as my life moves forward on its pilgrimage. The first visit of course can be the hardest. The smells that are often there, the seemingly vacant empty bodies strapped to chairs, at first can be overwhelming and depressing. I suppose one reason is that the inner life of the home, the relationships between staff and residents, the actual love and caring there, are not experienced right off the bat. As one who works with the elderly I know, there is a lot going on that is missed. Unless one has the eyes to see, and yes perhaps the faith to perceive what is below the seemingly obvious, which is not obvious at all, then the experience can be very limiting, and for some damaging. I am not sure it is good for everyone to go into nursing homes, though I think they are few.
On my second visit to the home, I was looking for Aldo; he was not in his room. As I was walking, I passed one of the recreation rooms. It is a large room, with a very large TV, and the residents are placed there. When I looked, all I could see were people strapped to chairs, some sleeping, others seemingly oblivious to their surroundings; the TV not really needed. There was one women with long grey hair stooped over in her chair. Next to her sat a man, much like her, bent over, eyes closed, but with a difference. He had his hand stretched out towards the woman, and the woman held on to his hand with one finger, perhaps the only finger she could use, yet she held tightly, and the man would not pull his arm back. So inside these bodies, broken with age, love was still there, powerful, mightily felt, life giving. The inner life goes on, perhaps much stronger than believed or realized. My faith leads me to believe that God is always at work in our lives. Deeply involved and in old age, the involvement may be very intense indeed.
As horrible as old age can seem and yes is for many in nursing homes, the inner life goes on, hopefully deepening. We do care for the elderly, perhaps we could do better, yet they do get cared for. Caregivers can tell you that it is an honor to care for those worn out by life. Difficult yes, but a worthwhile occupation, that most caregivers feel enhances their lives. They are overworked and underpaid, yet many stay in the field because they truly want to simply care for others.
If one perseveres in visiting a loved one in a nursing home, and is open to the experience, slowly the perception changes. Others or noticed, greetings given, and smiles exchanged. Staff members become like old friends, and respected for the loving service that they give. Words spoken to the other residents, even if the one spoken to cannot respond with words, there are other ways to communicate. At times a tear will be shed when the chair bound cannot speak, or a smile given, they become real, alive, just in a different way. I believe the mind is always at work, it is the brain that does not function, so the exterior can be deceptive. Of course many will think this nonsense. Well they have a different lens to view reality, mine is faith based, and yes also experienced and it is not just an intellectual acceptance of some abstract religion, but an actual experience of the love of the Eternal, not only for me but for all without exception. Infinite love is something I don’t understand, but experience. All are loved in that manner by God, infinitely.
It is a shame that more people don’t get involved in some ways with these homes. Their lives would be enriched, their faith deepened, hearts expanded, and yes they would become happier. The human heart is made to give, to love, we truly are what we are called to be, when we love and care for others. Many visit homes even if they don’t have family there; they do it because of the above. In loving they become their true selves.