We've lived in this town about 10 months and almost everyday I drive by a nursing home within 5 minutes of our home. Everytime I look at them I tell myself that I'll take the girls one day, but I just never get around to it. But when I found out a few weeks ago that a friend in my mom's group who also has 2 little girls has a father who lives at one around the corner, I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to go. Today was the day.
We walked in to find a sitting area with about a dozen elderly men and women seated in wheelchairs staring into space. Pretty much the whole home was filled with this, halls and sitting areas of old people just sitting and staring. A few were watching Rachael Ray's talk show on television. I don't think any of them were really watching it though. One of the few ladies who could walk actually came over and greeted us when we first walked in, commenting about the girls and how she had a 5 year-old granddaughter. I told her I loved her bright pink shirt. She told me it was red ;)
We went to look at the bird aviary and I approached a woman who was sitting nearby. She looked at me with her very small, squinty eyes, and kept trying to make out words with her mouth. Then she would get frustrated. Her poor hands were shriveled closed and she kept trying to use one shriveled hand to open the fingers of the other. She lit up for a minute when she saw the girls, but mostly just looked at me...trying to ask for something that I didn't know how to give. My friend's dear father is the hall-walker, wandering up and down the hallways all day. He was excited to talk to me about Animal Science (he had his PhD) when I told him that my husband was studying it. I hope to bring Steven back to visit him and see all his awards from his cattle days!
This visit makes me reflect on my own grandmother who lives in a nursing home a few hours away. It is so sad to visit her. The smell that hits me is their breath. Many of the elderly aren't able to brush their teeth on their own, and many times my grandmother has food that doesn't get swallowed. It's pretty repulsive to look at their teeth and to smell the stench of their mouths. What is encouraging though is to see the little short-lived smiles when they see my girls and when I look them in the eyes and just smile. Then I forget the stench and try to just be present to them.
There was one lady there who gave me hope. She was pushing herself down the hallway and had the most radiant smile! It was one of those smiles that is stuck on someone's face. We greeted her and I told her that she has a beautiful smile and seems very happy. "Thank you," she said. Something about her thanks made me recognize the way that some can approach death and old age with a positive attitude. The lady with the pink/red shirt also thanked us for coming to visit them. Those little smiles and thanks should be all I need to make this a regular thing. In college, I lived with a family who took their little toddler to the nursing home each week. I've always thought that was a beautiful practice. I hope my girls become more comfortable there and can offer smiles back to the residents instead of the looks of fear they had today.
And I hope I can be a better granddaughter to my Nana who is lonely in a nursing home, trying harder to visit, send pictures, and call her more often. There is a wealth and treasure in these people we are all missing out on. I hope I can tap into it more often.