When I was a teenager, my mother had to make the difficult decision to place my grandfather in a nursing home. I remember going to visit him with her one day after school. It was hard enough seeing my grandfather in a facility, but to make matters worse, one of the residents saw my mom pushing me in my wheelchair and asked, "How long has she been here." I got very upset. We told a staff member about the incident and they told us that the facility wouldn't accept anyone as young as I was. ( I was fifteen or sixteen at the time). but that incident was enough for me. I rarely visited my grandfather or anyone else in a nursing home after that.
Then, I began volunteering at the independent living center. One of my clients was in a nursing home. My job was to visit them every week. I didn't want to do it, I didn't know if I could do it, given my past experience with nursing homes, but it was what I'd been assigned to do, so I really had no choice.
Going in to the facility, I made my way to the elevators and was met with the smell of stale food as the elevators were next to the cafeteria and I usually arrived shortly after breakfast. I'd ride the elevator to my client's floor, come out by the nurse's station and see many residents sitting around a table, some sleeping, some awake but staring at nothing and some still alive, but from all outward appearances, looking like their souls had already left this world, but their physical bodies hadn't gotten the message yet. There was also a strong odor of urine. To say it was depressing is putting it mildly.
The conditions didn't seem to bother my client. They were always smiling and happy to see me, full of questions about what was going on in my life. While still relatively young to be in a facility, they handled their situation with grace and dignity. And, yes, even though my client was in a facility, they still maintained a degree of independence. Making their own decisions and choices. I wonder if I could ever achieve the level of acceptance my client had, If I found myself in a similar situation one day? I wonder if anyone could?
I tried to have myself removed from the case after that first visit. I just couldn't imagine going to such a depressing place every week to visit someone who was approximately my age. It hit too close to home. I saw myself in my client and it scared me.
I visited weekly for nine months. We found we had many things in common. I am glad I was given the client in the nursing home because I saw someone in a truly horrible environment who was able to smile, take an interest in others and still find joy in life,
Many times we get lost in the negative and forget to look for the positive things in our lives. No matter how bad a situation is there is always good, always joy. We just have to open our hearts and minds to find it.