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That awful place?

June 28, 2010
by Kathleen Mears
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In order to attend a family reunion in Pittsburgh over the weekend, I had to travel there and back in one day. Because both of my parents were brought up in small towns 50 miles away from Pittsburgh, I wanted to take the scenic route. When we were young, my father took great pride in showing us the tunnels as well as the convergence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers which form the Ohio River.

Since all of the original clan has passed away, my cousins work very hard to keep the family together. We all want to remember our roots and know about the family. My grandparents had 12 children, 11 of whom lived to be adults. There were 30 of us grandchildren. Now, many of my cousins have their own children with whom they can share our heritage.

Making the trip in one day is a challenge which I have not undertaken since the 70s. So it was a jaunt down memory lane for me. The end of the trip was slow and up a steep hill. But balloons on the mailbox made it easy to find the house. We got there just as the lunch buffet line was forming. When my Aunt B arrived from the nursing home where she lives, my driver had to assist her driver with lowering the lift properly. I was surprised that her driver would try to lower my aunt on unlevel ground.

I spent a lot of time with my aunt. She looked well enough but told us she is depressed and that she “hates that awful place” where she lives. When I asked what she does with her time she said she smokes which she must do outside. She does use her laptop and also watches DVDs on it. She said that she has difficulty hearing even with the headphones. I suggested she might need a hearing aid. But she told me emphatically she did not want one. So I intend to see what can be done to amplify her headset.

Aunt B looked fine if it were an ordinary day at the nursing home. But I thought the nursing home staff would have had her better turned out for the family reunion. Then I realized that maybe she did not want that. She wore no makeup, which was not usual for her life before the nursing home.

A cousin in her late 50s shared that she needed to be in a nursing home after an illness. She was scared to death wondering what she would do there and how she would handle being with elders. But she found that the staff put her into a private room off to herself. They also let her use the computer in the activity room after hours so she could keep up on her e-mail, the news, paying her bills online, and playing online games. But she was probably more vocal and made her needs known. I told her that she did exactly what residents need to do.

I felt badly for my Aunt B, but I reminded her that the nursing home will be what she makes of it. She gave me a leery look but she did not disagree. It is hard to see someone who appears to have lost some zest for life. Aunt B used to be the life of the party. She would have us all in stitches just telling tales of her daily life.

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Kathleen Mears

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Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...