Our neighbor was moved into a nursing home in our small town yesterday. She was told the arrangements Monday night, just before Honey arrived to spend the night with her in the hospital. She wept as her niece and him tried to cheer her up by telling her it was only going to be temporary, that she would be closer to home, and would have plenty of visitors.
Her regular doctor actually told her that she probably wouldn’t ever return home, which is an unconscionable thing to say to someone in her situation. However, the physician that performed her hip surgery said he felt that she would be able to after healing completely. She said she is determined to prove her regular doctor wrong.
So, yesterday evening we went to visit her in the nursing home. It has been years since I used to visit my great-grandmother when she lived in one and I was feeling quite nervous about it before arriving. I could remember people clutching at you from their wheelchairs, the floors being littered with feces and urine, and the terrible stench that usually greeted us at the door.
Apparently things have changed since then, as this place actually looked pretty nice on the way in. After working our way around those sitting in the hallways, we arrived in her room. We had hoped that she would be placed in a room with another person of sound mind, as the companionship would have been very beneficial, but it appeared that her roommate has Alzheimer’s or some other mental illness. She could carry on a conversation to some extent, but asked off-the-wall questions, like wondering if we were the ones that had won the lottery. If only.
As I stood in the doorway of her room and looked around at the other patients – those in the hallways and those in their rooms – I couldn’t help but feel a terrible sense of helplessness and despair. These people are literally waiting to die. I overheard one nurse telling another that one of the patients told her that they were “praying for the Lord to take them.” I could certainly empathize. Those who were asleep in their beds seemed to be the only ones at peace.
Not too long before we left for the evening, Mrs. J looked at Honey and said, “Now don’t you understand why I would rather be dead?” He told her not to worry, that she was going to get well and come home. I was practically in tears by the time we left, so relieved to be getting out of the place and feeling guilty that she didn’t have the same luxury.
As we drove home, we discussed the inevitability of death and the possibility of being in assisted living someday. We both decided that it would be much better to die suddenly from something than to slowly decline to the point that you can’t take care of yourself. A nursing home seems like some form of hell-on-earth, where you long for death as you lose control of your body and your mind.
I was also reminded of Deepak Chopra’s statement on Larry King Live last week, when he compared death to a stalker. He said that he knows death is coming for him and it’s a little closer every time he looks over his shoulder. He said we’re all on death row and we all know we’re going to die; we just don’t know which method of execution will be used. Depressing thoughts, but so true.
Honey asked me how God could allow these things to happen to people; how so much suffering in the world seems to go unnoticed by a supposedly gracious and loving God. I stammered out some response that I’d heard a million times before, not even believing my own words, as these kinds of things also cause me to question my beliefs. How could He allow the weakest members of the human race – the youngest, the oldest – to be so neglected and so abused?
The amazing thing is that it never seems to weaken the faith of those who are actually going through turmoil. Mrs. J asked us to bring her Bible, her Sunday school materials, and to pray for her. Tammy Faye, staring death in the face a few nights ago, never blamed God for her disease. Instead, she looked towards a brighter future. What a comforting thought that must be. I pray that one day I can attain an iota of her faith, and the faith of my precious neighbor. That seems to be just about the only thing worth living for.