Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Over yonder

Eleanor was a mere wisp of a woman, tiny in height, like a little bird. Like a little brown sparrow with a soft southern accent. Her hair, a yellowy shade of white, was cut in a short bob with uneven bangs. Every day she wore a flowery gathered skirt, a white blouse, and a cardigan sweater. She looked like an aged street urchin who belonged on the streets of Paris, not in a dingy dementia unit in Maryland.

I vaguely remember discussions with a family member, or perhaps two of her family members, that resulted in her being moved from independent living into the locked unit, the dreaded 6th floor where no one wanted to go. Once there, no one moved back. The unspoken reality was that it was a death sentence with no deadlines. Everyone knew that.

I was a graduate intern and it was my job to monitor Eleanor during the transition. Not long after her move, I went to the 6th floor and found Eleanor at the end of the hall, looking out the window.

“Good morning, Eleanor, it’s good to see you,” I tried to turn on my calm but cheery voice.

She didn't look at me, but continued to look out the window and said, “This is not my home.”

“Eleanor, you’re in the same building. You just moved to another floor,” I said.

“No, I live over yonder,” she said, pointing to the office building down the block.

I knew it was useless to try and I couldn’t lie to her.

“No, this is not my home. I live over yonder.” Again she pointed down the street and turned to me with desperation in her eyes. How could I have been part of the plot to move her from her home?

And now, years later, my own mother is ailing and we know she can no longer live independently. I’ve tried to break the news to her with as much compassion as I can. I’ve seen that look before.

“Mom,” I said, “we’re probably going to have to look into assisted living for you. And soon.”

“No,” she said, “I can’t leave here. It’s my home.”

Sometimes I wish I lived “over yonder” and I didn’t have to deal with these sad realities of life. This isn’t my home either.

1 comment:

  1. It’s horrible, that conflict between the need for safety and supervision, versus the need for privacy and continuation of familiar patterns. It would be so nice to live in a one-story, single-family home with two or three long-time friends, sharing the cost of hiring someone for shopping, meal prep as needed, and weekly housekeeping. Hoping we croak before that long, sad slide into needing help with grooming, toileting and bathing. I so hope we have the home caregiver thing sorted out and funded by the time I need it. And also that microwave meals look and taste much better by then.

    For some people, just installing a walk-in tub can buy a year or more before someone has to leave home and move into assisted living. In some locales you can order groceries through Amazon.com for delivery. Sadly, whatever can be cobbled together, something else that’s needed is not available, like a companion who's qualified to dispense medication. So people end up having to move who would so much rather stay put.