August 31, 2011


I was at the rehab center/nursing home with Joe around dinner time. Let me state up front that I like very much the place he is now. The people are very very attentive. And there is A LOT of staff. I don't have to wander the halls looking for someone. They're all over.

But it is what it is when you're there... it is a rehab center for some, a nursing home for others. Some will rehab and leave and others will rehab from some sorrowful state to something slightly better.

Many will die or are starting the dance with death.

We all know that overall, I'm OK with death. I can deal. There are two things, however that bother me greatly in these facilities, one always has and the last one... I realized today.

The lack of dignity in death in these places... bugs me. I will probably make choices in my later years, if I make it that long, that prevent my death from being so humliating and undignified.

This has always bugged me.

But today I realized what bothers me is watching the last year of someone's marriage.

When you go to one of these places, chances are someone is dying or will be in the next 12 months. Chances are... there is a spouse with them.

I struggle with that.

Today I sat with Joe. Sitting on a far wall, I could look out of the room, into the hall, and catch a glimpse of the room across the hall. A little elderly man stood at Joe's doorway, looking at me.

He had a puzzled look, lost almost, in the need of help.

My visit was coming to an end and after I saw this man come to our door twice, I realized he needed someone and I needed to get someone from the nurse's station. I suspected he thought I was someone who worked there.

I went to the hall and he was already at the station. He was wearing those cream colored lace up shoes that the elderly wear, very functional looking, orthopedic. He was slightly stooped and balding, his rounded shoulders in a button down ironed shirt with a Mr. Roger's navy blue sweater and khaki pants. He was very clean and dignified. Quiet. Unsure. Lost.

He waited patiently until someone said, "May I help you?" and he said in a crackly, quiet, polite elderly voice, "Yes, please, could you tell me when someone is going to put my wife to bed?"

The CNA looked at him and said, "Nobody has done that? They'll be right down."

He shook his head slowly, bewildered and said, "No. They just laid out her clothes. Thank you..." and he shuffled off to his room.

I watched him, as a lump formed in my throat, this little man trying for some modicum of civility in the battle his wife and he were facing, they who probably cared for each other in their youth, he unable to care for her in their advanced years. I'd seen her curled in sitting in a wheel chair. She is not for long here.

I wondered, what was he like 40 years ago? What was he like when he was 40 or 50? Did he walk assured and with a large stride? Did he have a large presence when he entered a room? Did he have a voice that carried and that people listened to? Was he able to carry his wife from room to room in play? Was he... confident?

Life had taken much from who he was and is now going to take his wife.

I think that is one of the hardest things about going to these places... watching the end of a marriage... not by choice.

Posted by Boudicca at August 31, 2011 09:23 PM

Oh ... tears! These posts need a "do not read this at work before a big meeting" warning! :-)

I think you have hit the nail on the head though - I have watched a couple in my Nan's nursing home for many years. He had a stroke in his 50s (50s!!) and has been in care for 20 years. His wife is tiny - she could never have physically cared for him at home and tried for as long as she could and then was gently encouraged to accept the inevitable - there are not much in the way of support teams in remote rural areas. Instead she milked every morning - made the one hour drive to town, sat with him all day and then made the retunr trip to help her son milk at night. Tragic.

I guess that's part of the reason I have always had my plan B - not because I think it's likely Mick and I will seperate but because if he dies I need to be prepared. I guess for me part of the deal with being married to a man who flies into film in remote and dangerous areas, is in choppers, small planes, motor bikes and does thousands of miles by car each year AND ocean sails as a hobby is facing the risk factor. He's not silly but at the end of the day for my sanity I need to know if it ends badly I'm ready - even if the reality may be if it ever eventuates that I don't do a single thing I thought I would.

Adding to that the knowledge this IS coming... I have no idea...

Posted by: Shaz at August 31, 2011 09:53 PM

That's why I revel in the old pictures that I'm posting these days... It's the before of your story.
It's the sepia land where he's still strong and confident, she's still young and vibrant.
Ma is 87... I spent the night of Irene listening to her talk about days and people long gone and it all played out in my head in grainy tones of brown and cream.
Somewhere they are young and strong, nattily dressed smiling out of an old photograph... And I believe when they shuffle off this mortal coil they will be that way forever.

Posted by: K-nine at August 31, 2011 10:30 PM

Oh my. Your posts just slay me. This is so true, and such a terrible thing to watch. But, we need to think and plan and prepare for our own situations. Thanks for sharing with us.

Posted by: Mary at August 31, 2011 11:07 PM

My monitor is blurry.

There is no dignity in aging; it robs us of who we were and I pray that K-nine is right...

Posted by: pam at September 1, 2011 08:20 AM

My father is in the same situation. He is 92 and, up until 2004, was strong and vital. He decided to get knee replacement surgery and he got an infection in it - and never really recovered. On top of this he has type II diabetes that he didn't get until his 80's, and neuropathy, which robs you of feeling and leaves numbness and pain.

Both my parents were movie star beautiful when they were young and my father had a wonderful sense of humor. I have been watching him dance with death now for about 2 years. My mother, who is 83, has cared for him until recently when he could no longer walk. He now lives in a place like you describe. The day my mother and he realized that she could no longer care for him was a disaster. When she told him where he was going, he turned his face to the wall and said nothing. It is absolutely heart breaking for me to see them. My father has now had lots of little strokes so he has dementia - he is just not the man I remember. He has been greatly diminished, and then, once in a while, he peeks out and he SEES you and you SEE him. That hurts even more. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how much planning you can do to avoid the humiliation of old age. No matter where you are, even if you are rich, you reach a point where you are helpless and young people, many of whom haven't a clue and feel like they'll live forever, and haven't any respect for elderly people - will be caring (or not) for you. I'm just not sure you can be ready for that.

Posted by: suze at September 1, 2011 11:10 AM

It's hard for me to imagine my parents or other older relatives in their younger, playful, party-going years. But when I read about entertainers I "knew" as a kid getting old and sick, it's kinda scary. I just read a story about Glenn Campbell and his latest, and probably final, album and how he and his wife are dealing with his early-stage Alzheimer's. Not a pretty thing to think about.

Posted by: George P at September 1, 2011 11:52 AM

Like Shaz, I have a back up plan always. If something awful were to happen to my husband today, all of us would be emotionally and mentally a mess, possibly irreparable (or so it would seem), but we have things in place that if anything bad happens to either of us... we can continue.

I watch my friends who are in their 80s and 90s (I have scads of them) and overall, it is all good. They are very matter of fact with where they are, treasuring all their time. They are open with me about that. Every morning and every evening they have is considered a blessing. They don't let anything interfere with each other. It is not sad watching that. It is where we are and what happens.

The tragedies occur when you can no longer function as a unit at home, as Suze has shared with us. That... is absolutely heart breaking and gut wrenching.

And Suze... for you... I am so very sorry.

Posted by: Bou at September 1, 2011 12:44 PM

Wow. Wasn't expecting to get all teary. Thanks for the post. Really.

Posted by: heresolong at September 1, 2011 08:19 PM

xxx. Not sure why the secrecy since it has a front facing site on the www. My X joined as her mother did many decades ago. Offices at young age. The group she joined was made up almost exclusively of much older ladies. They still had their BIL nights and we all got together from time to time.

Lost a number of friends to dementia and death. She opted to join the nearest group which was made up almost exclusively of widows that settled that part of the coast in the '60s or earlier. Very nice people and co-laterals. Gave with open hearts and true feeling.

I decided a long time ago not to live to be old. Not really worth all the bother.

Posted by: Curtis at September 1, 2011 08:40 PM

Oh Suze - you're in my prayers xx

Posted by: Shaz at September 4, 2011 09:38 PM