Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sixty-seven years

Sixty-seven years is a very long time.

One of the patients I recently visited on my volunteer chaplain rounds is a fairly new arrival at the senior facility. Well into her nineties, she has some physical limitations, but her mind is sharp, and she's bright as a new penny. Speaking with her is a real pleasure, and I look forward to our visits.

Ellen (not her real name, of course) valued her independence. She had lived in her home, a large, three-story Victorian, for sixty-seven years, the last twenty or so on her own, after the death of her husband. Ellen is grieving for her house now, and trying to make the adjustment to living in her new apartment.

"In my house," she complained during my last visit, "I knew where everything was. I could reach into a cabinet without looking, and find what I needed. Now I don't know where anything is. Where's the spatula? Where's the gravy boat?"

The sad thing, of course, is that Ellen knows she will probably not be needing her spatula or her gravy boat, since all her meals are provided by the facility in a lovely dining room. It's the familiarity that she's grieving for. She's also grieving for those picnics and Christmas-tree-trimming parties that she described to me -- those parties she will no longer be hosting. The banister that will no longer have the fir garland draped upon it. The stained-glass window at the top of the staircase. The garden with her favorite flower, the peonies.

Aging is a progressive diminishment, a peeling away of the familiar, until only the immediate and necessary remain. Some people adapt to this gracefully, even, at times, gratefully, happy to give up the burden of the house and all it entails. Many don't seem to. Sixty-seven years is a very long time to live in one house.

The house finally sold last week, Ellen told me. Her children took what they wanted, and the rest went to auction. "I never imagined it, my things in an auction," she whispered.

All I can do for Ellen is hold her hand, pray with her, and reassure her that she will eventually feel at home here, in this apartment where she can't find anything. But I'm not sure she believes me.

I'm not sure I believe it myself.


Carolyn said...

For the past two years, I have lived in a retirement community -- although management prefers to think of it as a "life lived forward" community. And in most respects it is exactly that. Many people are my age (72) or younger, active and with all our marbles still intact. Quite a few fall into this category, despite having passed age 90. But, yes, there are those among us who are failing, either physically, mentally, or both. One of the things I find most touching and comforting is the level of gentleness and care for those who need to move to a more supportive living environment. But that comes later -- hopefully, much later. At first, and after the settling in phase you describe, nearly everyone is delighted to be here. In fact, I have not been this busy, or had more learning, entertainment, and travel choices to make in half a century. There are, though, a few who never get over letting go of their former homes. Often, they are the people who cling to possessions and find it nearly impossible to move forward -- and, sadly, they are usually the ones who should have let go much earlier as they have very little time to enjoy all that is offered before needing some form of permanent health care. Some refuse to believe that this can be a real home. On the other hand, several weeks ago a new resident, who felt she had been forced here by her son, grieved her lost home for weeks... until she discovered there is a regular bingo game. She picked up her head and her pocketbook and has not looked back since. So you never know what may make the difference!

The Rev. Judy Vaughan-Sterling said...

Hi Carolyn,

I'm so glad you're delighted with your new life. I think you moved there at the best time for you, and that makes a huge difference! You've found new interests (who is that, playing the ukelele??), and plenty of time to build yourself a network. SO SO important to have lots of support.

I wish I could get Jan to come up and see your wonderful place!

Carolyn said...

Hmmm... you would not be the first woman to come here for an initial visit, leaving a husband at home.