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.