Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sunset Years

When I visit my mother in the multi-level Care Home she lives in, I have occasion to meet many of the residents there. And they are always willing to share a bit of their life stories or small bites of wisdom they've gleaned through a lifetime of living.

There are so many stories in that building...it is almost bursting at the seams. Each resident has unique experiences. Each resident suffered joys and despair...each resident is an encyclopedia of knowledge.

The women are more hesitant to tell their stories. They are more accepting of their state, of being alone, of being infirm. It takes coaxing, sometimes, to win a smile or a hello from them...even when they are in a group, it is mostly silent, with a giggle here and there.

But their eyes show their interest or humour. One particularly garrulous English lady, who has a wry sense of the ridiculous, shrugs off her lifetime stories, preferring to tell me, instead, that she finds it very odd, as a former chef in a well-known hotel, that she is reduced to eating the "pap they call food" here, in the residence.

It does no good to remind her that the beleaguered chef of the facility has what must seem like a gazillion different menus for each resident there. There are diabetics, heart patients, GERD sufferers...the list goes on and on.

It is mostly the same story from all the women. Their eyes light up when food is mentioned...most of them were good cooks, putting meals on tables for most of their lives, for their families. They know what good food should taste like. And they have little sympathy for the chef.

The men are different. From childhood on, these men have been fed by the different women in their lives. They are used to eating what is put in front of them. They are grateful for it; their food arrives on time, with no fussing in the kitchen with implements that feel strange in their hands.

But each and every one will tell me how good their mother's cooking was, or their deceased wife or wives...one gentleman told me that wife No. 3 was the best cook, out of the five wives he had. She made the best cookies, too, he tells me. And he tells me, further, that the food in the residence isn't the best he'd eaten, but he can no longer eat many items anyway.

And he rolls his eyes, and says...Whatcha gonna do? Indeed.

I remember taking my father-in-law out for dinner, when he was in care. He had fantasized over what he would have in his favourite restaurant for weeks before we took him. Short ribs...he could taste, long before he actually sat down in the restaurant, the silken gravy, the succulent, tender beef, the mashed potatoes with Spring Onions and the wonderful, wonderful green globules of Peas, cooked to perfection.

He ate the whole plateful of food, and would have licked it clean, had he not been as fastidious as he still was.

And then disaster struck. It started with a rather loud gurgling, slushy sound coming from Dad's innards...and suddenly we were dashing back to his care facility, through rush hour traffic, Dad moaning and saying he couldn't hold it...

And he didn't.

But did I mention how fastidious he was? Calmly, after moving to his wheelchair out of the car, he tucked his pants into his socks...saying...There, that should keep it in.

And then, he allowed us to wheel him back to his room, somehow still managing to look kingly and dignified. I had never loved him as much.

Often, I wonder how I will be, when I am in my declining years, living in a care home. Women and men have changed; no longer are the roles in life so well-defined. Men cook, clean and care for their families with ever more frequency, women are often the family earner. Gender no longer determines the role in life.

Computers are an integral part of lives, these days...not so for the seniors of my mother's generation. And computers allow us to visit every corner of the World, keeping even the infirm well informed at a touch of a finger. I will have my computer keeping me in touch with the way of the World.

And I like to think I will still be interested in telling stories, to anyone who will listen to my slow, halting, elderly speech. To my out-dated ideas. To wisdom I have garnered through the years. I still like to think my eyes will show my emotions, when speech and brain don't mesh...

And I like to think that my generation...the sixties generation...will show what seniors can do, given the choice. Perhaps a lady chef will be invited into the kitchen to share her knowledge...perhaps by sheer numbers, we will all be invited to share our collective wisdom, on whatever it might be. Perhaps multi-level care homes will be places that are revered for the people who live there...the people who have different ideas...the Yoga teachers, the musicians, the writers and sports authorities, the builders, the artists.

It seems to me we evolve with every generation. I hope when the time comes for me to choose a Care facility for myself, they will be perceived a little differently than they are today.

In my sunset years, I want to be able to look forward to where I live, as a child does with a promised trip to Disneyland. Is that even possible; is there a shift that happens when I become very old?

When I become very old, does it instantly somehow mean I will close my mind? That I will no longer be able to accept circumstances? It is all very well for me, now, to state that I will be different, when I am not there yet, in my declining years.

It is another one of my unanswerable musings, another one where I will have to wait to find out. But I want to remember that once upon a time, I had a positive outlook towards life, mostly.

I want to carry this goal forward.

21 comments:

  1. My grandmother was beyond upset when we had to put her into a extended care facility. It was a lovely place and gave her the best of everything. But all her life she had dreaded going into an "old folks home" and could never see the great environment around her. Life is what you make of it.

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  2. The advanced seniors in the care facilites have life so many life's experiences. They just want to share a word about themselves to anyone who will show them respect and love. I say sit talk and learn from these people. They are no different then us. They want to know or feel that they have made an impact in someone's life. They want to be able to hold a convesation and life just a little more. You are correct, their eyes convey the entire conversation so, when we talk to them (I should say listen to them) also look at them and feel their look and thier words. When it is time to slow down and live out the twilight years let your attention be called to the powers of attraction. It works.

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  3. Oh bless him! I spoke to an old lady next to me in a coffee shop the other day and she also came out to be a very interesting lady, but I had to prompt and ask questions too. At my local gym there is a few older gentle man and they always chat and say hello, woman tend to be more quiet to strangers.
    My kids always repeat what a bumper sticker say: "Be nice to your kids because they choose your retirement home" LOL

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  4. Marion, rest assured that we Baby Boomers will redefine old age. Already happening. I think to the Dennis Hopper add for some financial planning outfit with his cocky attitude. We are cocky and demanding and the other generations are just going to have to put up with us.

    Once, for a year and a half I worked at a senior center in Ohio where we did everything possible to help our village's elderly residents remain in their homes. I accompanied many a little old lady to the doctor and had my patience tested time and time again. Yet, I felt a tremendous duty to these folks to do everything possible to help them. I wish we could keep our parents and neighbors where they are happiest, but at some point that becomes so difficult that we seek other care situations for those we love.

    Bless you for listening and bringing out the memories of those sharing your mom's environment.

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  5. Jan, years ago, when our parents put our grandparents into homes, they remember them as dank, horrid, smelly places, which they mostly were...at least, here. So that is still their perception, no matter how bright and sunny the facilities are now.

    Changing a perception can be very difficult...I see a shift in the seniors' outlook, for the better, when their eyes open to the incredible opportunities that surround them.

    But some, like your grandmother, can never get past seeing the "old folk's home" as it used to be, long ago. As you say, acceptance goes a long way to the road to happiness.

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  6. It has been an education for me, Dave, to visit with the seniors...an education and a joy. I have learned to communicate with a smile and a touch.

    I have learned to look directly into their eyes...there is so much there that tells the person's story. And thereby, understanding of the person.

    Hann, I've seen that bumper sticker! It must be everywhere. But I hope to choose my own care residence...in my area, there are some pretty amazing places!

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  7. Sheila, I hope you and I are still blogging, still sharing ideas, still "cocky" in our advanced years! There is nothing I like better than reading one of your posts...it sets up my day!

    Yes, we Baby Boomers are a loud, vociferous bunch...and I have all the confidence that I will fit right in...

    Speaking of cocky, there is a gentleman and a lady in a wheelchair at the residence; this man delights, much as a six year old boy taunts the object of his love interest, to tease the lady a bit.

    The other day, he trundled up to her in her wheelchair, which she moved at a minuscule pace, and held on to the back, so she couldn't move at all. She, of course, couldn't figure out what was happening at first...and when she did, she turned her head slightly, and said...Oh, Grow Up!

    Made my day.

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  8. What a wonderful book that could make telling the stories and wisdom of such interesting people.

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  9. Marion,
    This was a very insightful and moving post. I have a dear friend getting on in years and have started a journal for her of her stories. We chat on the phone and I tap away on my laptop. I hope that when I am old I will have the grace to make the best of whatever circumstances I find myself in. You can take nothing for granted in life.

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  10. I think that being a child of the sixties we have a better relationship with our children than our parents had with us. Attitudes today are not a great deal different to the 60's. Many of are used to technology and can adapt to the changes and uses that come with it.

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  11. I tend to get depressed when visiting friends in old age homes as I also find that all they are doing is living from meal to meal. Hopefully I will pop off before I need to go into care.

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  12. My mom lives in a facility as well, and talks about how awful the food is all the time! I remind her, though, that it does not stop her from going down there and getting in line every night to eat it! All of a sudden the subject changes then! LOLOL I< too, hope my golden years are filled with dignity.........that is what all of us want and deserve. hugssssssss

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  13. Artist, I have thought about a book of stories from the people at this facility. It is an idea I'm working on at the present moment.

    Princess, right now I plan on using a tape recorder, but just typing as they tell their stories would work better, I think. Thanks for the suggestion!

    And I believe you do have the grace to grow very old with dignity...it shines through in your posts!

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  14. Davem, this shift in family relationships will certainly make a big difference in the way care residences are perceived. Having my well-loved family visit and listen to my bletherings will surely go a long way to making my last years happier!

    I think our adaptability with technology will work to our advantage in our declining years.

    Jackie, you're right, lol! Food is the one thing that is static...it always arrives, is safe to criticize, and the seniors find it brings them all together...against what is perceived as incompetence by the chef!

    I guess they could complain about their ailments or a myriad other things...but in complaining about the food, which they all mostly eat with gusto, they have a common enemy.

    I love your reminder, Lorna...I am going to use it next time I hear about the food! I need to adopt your cheerful attitude more...who could ever complain to you and your smiling face!

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  15. I enjoy cooking when im allowed to lol, but for some reason when I eat dinner over my parents house, the food has just something extra about it. Times do change, that is true.. but some things will always be the same as well. :)

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  16. We've been fortunate in that the home we've found for my Dad has excellent food, though I hope that one thing that will change by the time we reach his sort of age is the menu. The food is perfectly cooked but it's all meat and two veg: very much the fayre of the wartime generation. They have spam fitters, for goodness' sake, which I haven't tasted since school! (I'm not sure if you have spam over there or if it's just an English thing. It's a kind of luncheon meat which was immortalised by Monty Python in 'the spam song'.)

    I hope in the future that such homes will have curries and pasta and lots of vegetarian options. And yes, I would expect us to have web access in every room. I hope you'll still be bloging away and I'll still be reading your posts!

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  17. You're right, Matt...there is nothing as good as the cooking I grew up with...Mom's cooking and baking. She was an extraordinary cook...we had wonderful, creative tortes and cakes. There is nowhere I will find that kind of cooking on a daily basis again!

    Simon...I have to confess I am one of the only people I know that likes Spam. In growing up in a European home, we had mostly deli meats, and I only wanted what my friends had in their lunches...Spam with ballpark mustard.

    When Mom's care residence had their Grand Opening, oysters on the half shell and champagne were the order of the day, for those who were able to partake. Times are changing, as does the food...it just gets better and better! lol

    I hope you will still be writing those evocative posts of yours...they do and will keep my mind active!

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  18. Your island must be a profusion of growth in spring. I first encountered thicket while hiking along the coast near Cannon Beach, Oregon. Either side of the trail was inpenetrable bushes and branches, much lower than the forest you depict in your photos. No way through that but by the trail. When I was younger, in my dreams, I could fly over such an impasse gliding above the land and treetops. Its harder to do now though with many more accumulated restraints to dreamy freedom.
    But I still hope for that gliding smooth path over the thicket and forest.

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  19. I'm sure the other residents enjoy your visits as much as your Mum does, Marion. It's nice for them to have somebody of a different generation to share their life experiences with. Thank you for sharing some of their stories with us all. My brother used to work with the elderly in a care home. He was always fascinated by the stories they used to tell him. Many of them had some wonderful life experiences to share. Many care homes in England are homes from home. They have visiting hairdressers, chiropodists and organise days out for the residents. They are no longer the dark, gloomy places they used to be.

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  20. Yes, I love that feeling of flight over an impasse, too, Goatman. There is much to be said for an overview of a situation!

    When too much "stuff" crowds in, leaving little room for dreamy flight, I have to be very aware of it; my spiritual body needs attention, as well.

    Naomi, the facility my Mom is in is brand new and very, very swanky! I am amazed at the options of things to do and participate in for the residents there. And there is always a band and music on one floor or another!

    Different places today, than just a few years ago, even!

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  21. It's good to hear that your visits with your Mom sound so upbeat. Sorry it's taken me so long to come catch up with what's going on with you, as you've been so good to keep up with me. We were very fortunate to find an Assisted Living facility for DH's father near us that was as close to being in your own home as the resident's limitations would permit. We were also fortunate that we were able to bring him home for his last bit of time on this earth, so he could die in familiar surroundings, with all his family there with him. The best of both worlds, I would say.

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