Confessions of a Dutiful Son: How to Visit a Nursing Home
Callahan, James J., Jr., Aging Today
One Gerontologist ond His Aged Mother
About a year ago, my 97-year-old mother, Martha, died in a nursing home after having been there for about two years. Many times during that period, I did not like to visit because I was tired of the responsibility for her and I did not like the feelings engendered in me by the nursing home environment.
The dutiful son in me was tired of being responsible for my mother's well-being for more than 33 years since my father had died. Keeping up the home, caregiving after a broken hip, moving into my house, moving to assisted living, moving out of assisted living, moving to a nursing home, arranging power of attorney, decision making about medical care, decision making about financial matters, applying for Medicaid, providing emotional support in emergency rooms-and more-had the dutiful son saying, "Enough is enough." This thought, of course, upset the loving son in me, who responded, "It's your mother-she still worries about you, and she is a living family memory with a few more secrets to divulge-you should be happy she is still around." Both the dutiful son and the loving son, however, ultimately merged into one as I sadly observed my mother's decline and eventual death.
REPOSITORY OF LOSS
I did not like walking down the halls of the nursing home, even though it is a good one. It is clean, bright, doesn't usually smell and the staff know and care about the residents. At one point, the nurses helped my mother recover from pneumonia after the hospital gave up. During her final illness, they were kind and caring as she worked through the dying process over a period of four or five days, but the nursing home is a repository of human loss-loss or partial loss of all those abilities people had when they were young. The visuals of a nursing home are tough, with wheelchairs, diapers, respirators and the like. Toughest for me are the eyes of the residents-the pleading eyes seeking solace, the blank eyes not aware, but most of all the intelligent eyes revealing awareness and understanding of their situation and personal history now incorporated in memories. I don't like the thought of my own future that these scenes provoke in me. Ten years ago I was 58, and a decade from now I will be 78, but I don't know how I will feel or where I will be. It's no fun visiting a nursing home.
But I did visit my mother regularly and have devised a few psychological and practical routines that might be helpful to others. First, I allocated a generous and fixed amount of time for the visit, so that I did not feel harried or cheated out of free time. The allocation was two hours, which included a 25-minute drive each way; a minimum of 30 minutes with my mother; and additional time talking with the nurses about her status, checking laundry, rearranging her room and so on. …