Several evenings ago, we cooked dinner and took it over to share with Mrs. J and her son. I am very thankful we did, because we had no idea how different things would be within a few days. We went back to visit her on Good Friday and were shocked to see the change that had taken place.
Mrs. J can no longer remembers basic things, like the number of grandchildren she has or that her siblings have passed away. She sits and rubs or smacks her head while trying to get her thoughts together. She keeps asking what she is supposed to be doing, getting up to go to another room and then sitting down again, and trying to pay us for coming to see her. It is heartbreaking to watch.
Mrs. J has always told us that she wants to die before going in a nursing home, so you can imagine what we felt when her son told us he had already been communicating with a local facility about taking her. Apparently Medicare will only kick in some money if she is placed in a home within a month of leaving the hospital, so she must be admitted by April 18th.
Honey was so devastated after our visit on Friday that he began asking if he could bring her to live with us. I didn’t know what to say, but knew he didn’t have a clue of what he would be getting himself into. After he talked it over with some of our other friends and we went for another visit with her yesterday, he began to realize a nursing home might be the best option at this point.
Mrs. J seemed normal enough when we arrived yesterday, probably because she had just gotten up from a nap. She quickly returned to a confused state, and wound up going back to bed before we left. It is obvious that her son is weary from worrying about what she is doing every minute of the day. He had to take over her medication several days ago, because he noticed she had incorrectly placed it in her pill organizer. She has even been asking about the handgun that she normally kept hidden under her mattress, but he has been unable to find it.
Although it is very painful to watch her decline, I know she has had a long, happy life. She is months away from her 94th birthday, and she has outlived her husband, all of her brothers and sisters, and many of her friends. We have done our best to make her elderly years as comfortable and enjoyable as possible, even though much of what happens to her is out of our control. Honey recently sat with her all night, every night while she was in the hospital for almost two weeks. I know he will cherish that time spent together for the rest of his life.
We have tried to make every birthday in recent years as special as possible, often taking her out for a meal at a restaurant and surrounding her with gifts, balloons, and friends. Her last birthday celebration was slightly more subdued, but we still had pizza, cake, and presents galore. We have spent many evenings with her over dinner, watching movies, or sitting in the emergency room while she gets checked out after a fall. During her nursing home stay after hip surgery a few years ago, we sat with her almost every evening for three months.
None of this is being recounted to make us appear like saints. We weren’t always happy to visit the nursing home with its various unpleasant smells and scenes. We didn’t enjoy checking her water meter every few weeks for a leak that never materialized. We might have even grumbled when we had to take her to the emergency room after a fall. But we did those things because it’s what you do when you love someone.
Mrs. J isn’t just a friend, she’s family. She always tells hospital staff that we are her grandsons. She often explains how she loves us so much that her real grandsons get a little jealous. She is more accepting and loving than many of my own relatives.
It would be easy to let this situation become overwhelming and depressing. I’m going to try to focus on the many wonderful memories we have accumulated over the past 15 years. How happy she was while working outside in her flowers. The awesome fried chicken she used to make. The smiles, the hugs, even the tears. The way she loves so fully and unconditionally.
Yes, life is cruel, but it can also be excruciatingly beautiful. Even as Mrs. J is robbed of her own memories, I will still look at her, remember that beautiful smile, and thank God for allowing our paths to meet.