By JUDY BLUHM
She called me Stephanie. Well, my mother is 96-years-old and is allowed a bit of confusion. But this past week I saw the startled look that occurs when you simply cannot quite figure out your surroundings. Or recognize the people you love.
Have you given much thought to old age? Yes, I know. Age is just a number. But frankly, it is much more than that. I have pondered this as I went to visit my mother again in Ohio in her assisted living. My eyes were opened by just going to the dining room with her for every meal. It is a sea of wheelchairs, a room filled with joy and heartache.
A poignant reminder of how fragile humans can become, and how much our bodies can change.
Go to a nursing home and be prepared to feel a tinge of anxiety, a sense of sadness, and maybe even fear. Why must our senses leave us so cruelly, distorting what we hear and see? Our frailness makes independence almost impossible.
We are limited by bodies that will not follow our commands, minds that won’t think clearly. We must navigate through thoughts, memories and ideas that swirl around all jumbled up in our heads. Words and names escape us. People scare us. Our days are filled with unfamiliar routines and strangers who care for us.
Yet, look closer as you walk the halls and sit in the dining room of any elder care facility. Do not despair. This is where courage resides.
These are folks who for the most part do not dwell on who they were, like the photos hanging in their rooms of wedding days or military service. These are people who still laugh, find joy, have hope, care for one another, find happiness with others. They stay in the moment and make the best of their circumstances. Complaining is for the weak. These folks are strong.
So, bingo, movie night, cooking classes and book clubs might not sound thrilling. Eating in a dining room with other “oldies” when the food is not so great could sound horrible. But it is not. Because the community of caring is stronger than the health issues that are obvious and destructive.
Humanity is an incredible and vibrant force of hope and love. And if you don’t think so, check it out for yourself.
I have met Lilian who taught school for 50 years, and Tom who served in World War II. There is Mary who was a nurse and Bill who was a mechanic. I see the way that strokes, deafness, dementia, heart failure and blindness can slowly steal quality of life. Yet, they sit with each other, laugh together and enjoy the acts of kindness that family, friends and nursing home staff show them.
They are not depressed. Not ready to die. They wake up every morning ready to face all that the day will bring. These are the brave ones among us.
My name is Judy. And I know my mother knows this.
Judy Bluhm is a writer and a local realtor. Have a story or a comment? Email Judy at firstname.lastname@example.org.