THE NURSING HOME
First, a thoughtful challenge; I am willing to bet many folks under the age of 45 have never given much thought to the passage of time. Under 45'ers generally don't think about aging. They think about other things like raising their kids, social media, who's friends with whom, who's been unfriended, how does my selfie look, can I afford a new cell phone, why can't I find a job or a partner and last but certainly not least, am I good-looking enough to attract the right guy. To those who identify with these challenges, I say great. Enjoy! Knock yourself out! Because very soon, the concept of time is going to kick in and and you will feel like you've actually been kicked...in the head.
Youth provides many interesting distractions, flights of fancy, and a plentiful assortment of neat pursuits, all of which occupy your mind. But when you reach 50, there is definitely one thing everyone asks themselves. Where in the hell did the time go? You don't know. You aren't sure. Or maybe you're even drawing a blank. Certainly, you have memories, but when you're first faced with the adult children of your best friends, you look at them and gulp. My God! They're adults. And lo and behold, memories just don't seem adequate anymore. Something else rushes in to fill the void; and that something becomes the immediacy that you realize is your life.
Once that realization strikes, there's not much time to dwell on the past. Oh, of course, there are always those among us who adore wallowing in the past, or just can't help themselves from wallowing in the past. But for many of us there's one single thing that sucks up most of your time. And for many of us its not work, or your kids. Yep, you guessed it; its your sick and aging parents. Shortly thereafter, things happen fast and often one or both of your parents ends up in that wildly spiralling social phenomenon known as 'the nursing home.'
Oh, Lord. Now the panic sets in. No longer is there time to wrestle with the worries of your own aging self; you're dealing with something much more devastating. This is the last bastion of your life as far back as you can remember. These are your parents and as you cross the threshold and step into the nursing home, you realize, with a painful gulp, that most likely they are going to die here in this heap of brick and mortar and glass. Terror grips you as you are faced with the reality of immortality in a very real way. Your thoughts are racing and you're probably asking yourself 'What do I do? I wasn't expecting this. I wasn't even thinking about this! Where do I even start?'
For some baby boomers, nursing homes are nothing short of a gift from heaven. These folks simply wait for a space to become available, then dump the parents and run like hell. Dumping and running refers to the popular practice of setting up your parents or parent in an affordable nursing home then running away as fast as possible only to return for a perfunctory visit (perhaps) two or three times a year, usually at Easter, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. I know this because on these three holidays, it's very difficult to find a parking space at the 'home'.
My family did not fall into the dump and run group. Sure, it would have been the easy way out, but the guilt would have killed me in the long run; and what a 'long run' it turned out to be.
Most likely, your first visit to the nursing home will consist of a walk around the place, a show and tell, and a question and answer exchange. The purpose of this is an evaluation which, for me, seemed like a cross between a hospital and a college dorm. The nursing home was a clean, almost homey place where personal care workers and nurses buzzed around. I settled in for a long wait for acceptance and was pleasantly surprised when the wait time was a mere four months! I had heard horror stories of folks who had to wait up to five years. Yes. After four months, my dad was tucked into the nursing home. He was suffering from Alzheimer's but here, he would be safe.
As those first few weeks began to unfold, my learning curve slowly spiked. For many other boomers, the spike is atmospheric. My God, he is here. And I am home. The home he loved was now merely a memory. And even that would soon disappear. Initially, there are the complaints to deal with; most of which came from my dad. He wanted to go home. He hated it the home. This went on for at least a month; a short lived period compared to others, I guessed. But we filled his room with his personal belongings in an effort to make him feel as much at home as possible. Having just lost my mother, my father was in a stage of mourning; this, while also having to cope with new surroundings and navigating the cloudy waters of the initial stages of alzheimer's.