Saturday, December 27, 2008

Day 2 in Erika's World

click on photo to enlarge
This is sad...even though we had lots of smiles, some laughter, some very sweet time together, at the end of the day, at the end of our visit a dark cloud of something that felt close to depression came over us. By us I mean DH and me. As we walked out of the nursing home we both felt it...weight...heaviness...sadness...and for me, fear. We came to visit Erika this morning and I felt up, buoyant, happy. She was very happy to see us and kept repeating how wonderful it was to have her family from California with her. And her grandson too, visiting from college he for 8 more days, we for 5 more days. We walked Erika around the "home"...we were happily greeted by all the staff. "Everyone knows me, I don't know anyone here." she said. We stopped to look at the birds in the aviary. I took photos to print out later. She loved seeing them in the camera. She remembered: "I used to take a lot of photos like you do now." We went back to her room and sat a spell. She'd exclaim about how happy she was to have her family with her from California. And her grandson from college. She and the guys ate Christmas cookies from Germany. We looked at photos together from our recent (six months ago) visit with her there. She wanted to "walk some more". My nephew pushed her in the wheel chair. We went the rounds again. This time we went clear to the front door and outside for a brief few minutes for some "fresh air" but it was cold, so back in quickly. We passed more people who called out to Erika in greeting. They are all so sweet with her. A beautiful Black man from Kenya with a melodic voice hugged her, asked her to tell him his name. She didn't remember. We all shook hands. My nephew stopped at a piano and sat down to play it. Erika said: "I can play with music, not from memory." Allen played loudly. Erika smiled. I am sure other's in the large room enjoyed it too. I hoped so. Other elderly people, more women than men, looked at us with sad eyes, expectant eyes, blank eyes, some smiled if I said hi. Some returned my wave. Others sat slumped over in chairs asleep. I feared they might fall out. Some seemed very very lost. I stopped us at a table where women were using foam cut outs of letters and putting them on door knob cutouts. It was craft time. I wanted to do crafts. I tried to engage Erika. She did not want to. But said I could. So she helped me spell all the names of family members and I stuck them on the paper hanger. In the end she'd spelled out and helped find letters for Lynn, Karen, Fred, Erika and Allen. She said it was beautiful. I added some stick on flowers. We took it back to her room and hung it on her door knob. Some touch of brightness, color. Later she wanted to walk again so we took another turn around the place. Erika got ice cream. She ate a few bites. DH finished it for her. It was getting late, I was very hungry...having missed lunch and it was nearing dinner time. We said we'd need to leave soon. A look of fear came into Erika's eyes. "I'll go with you!" she said. "No, Karen is coming from work to visit you soon, you will wait here." "I don't know how to find my room!" "We'll take you to your room. You'll be okay." "Are you coming back?" "Yes, we'll be back tomorrow." "Not tonight?" "No in the morning." "You aren't going back to California?" "No, we will come back for five more days." Big smile. "Oh good." "Oh good." We walked back to Erika's room. Got our coats and bag. Allen waited there with her as we left alone. He'd come afterwards, he'd get her settled first so we wouldn't all be leaving her at once. I was glad. I didn't want to see her frightened again. I felt frightened. For all the others there, lost souls, who somehow made it through the day without anyone visiting them. Who made it through the day wandering, or sitting coloring pictures, or playing bingo with huge round chips on BIG numbers; or slumped in chairs alone; or playing 'hang man' for "cognitive help"; or doing crafts or sitting at the craft table saying they did not want to do it." I felt ever so sad for this sort of end of life. It was not golden. There was nothing golden about it. The ice cream did not look all that good. The staff was nice and friendly, but lots of folks stood, walked, sat, wandered alone talking to themselves or not, and no one paid attention to them. I do not want to wind up in such a place, but I know it sure could and very well might happen. I find this very daunting, scary, even somewhat terrifying. Tomorrow we will go see Erika again.


  1. There are some great photos there. I love those birds. You showed them before but I still love them.
    It is a sad situation for the elderly. At least your MIL does get company. I wonder if she remembers once you leave that you were there. That doesnt mean you will be in one. If you keep on taking care of yourself like you have been you might surprise yourself. My Aunt and Uncle still live on their own in their own apartment with no help what so ever. He is 90 and she 4 years younger.
    But I know it is scary once you see something like that. Hope the next five days are better.

  2. I agree, it is terrifying to see folks in a nursing home and terrifying to think of oneself in such a place. It is overwhelmingly a sad situation. I feel blessed that somehow both my parents escaped that fate and were at home until almost the end. I did not want to see them in an institution, nor did I want to have to visit such an institution. As you say, the staff is often wonderful. But in the end, it is an institution and they must be run in a certain way that is so much different from the elderly person being a) at home with a relative or b) able to live on their own like Cris' aunt and uncle--which is wonderful Cris. Hard to believe they have no help at all with groceries and cleaning etc. That is unusual.

    There are other solutions that may take money and hard work to set up and maintain. I know I dont have a daughter to come and move in with me when I'm old. So that fear and sadness hangs over one at times. I understand how you both might feel sad and depressed.

    Be well, Suki

  3. Yes Cris we all age differently. My dear uncle and aunt are turning 90 in Jan and May of 09. They live in a beautiful adult community in their own small retirement home.
    But my aunt has the beginning of dementia and uncle is starting to have some difficulty getting out of low chairs...he's partially deaf too. So far they manage well under these circumstances...all their kids and grown grand kids and us keep an eye on them to see when and if this may have to change in any way....

    Suki thanks for all your input here. I too wonder who will take me on in my old age. I can see both my kids warehousing me just fine. Son in law has already made a remark about hoping I did not need to move in with them...(that was when I was talking about the recession...but I'd likely hear the same if I became unable to care for myself in my real old age!
    So bring on those antioxidents and other good health foods and exercises...;-) I'll go out fighting I will!!!!!

  4. I worked in a nursing home during college. I don't want to be in one, but for some people it is less lonely than living alone. I could tell you stories...

  5. Mim, I think I'll pass on the stories...being there was Enough! OY.


Thanks for leaving your comments as I love hearing from you. Your words of encouragement are why I continue to draw!