Nursing Home Sadness or Soul Education?
Weekly visits to a local nursing home where I live is a part of my volunteer life. For various reasons I was not volunteering for hospice and I truly missed not having a patient to visit with. One day I walked into a nursing home and asked to volunteer. They were thrilled to say the least; a little paperwork, TB shot and I was on my way back into the wonderful world of bringing love to our elderly folk!
We are all going to get old. I know what you’re thinking, please don’t let me end up in a nursing home. Here is a thought I want you to ponder while you are reading this article; getting to the end of life is a gift. What is important is how are you living your life right now? This is what these beautiful elders are teaching us. We witness all kinds of feelings within ourselves when entering a nursing home. All our eyes see is sadness and that getting old is terrible. Walking the halls perhaps an elder is crying, TV’s are blaring with some obnoxious talk show, different smells, employees are overworked and sometimes burned out. It feels like this is just a job for them and they have become desensitized to the process of getting old. Yet, I am the proverbial optimist and I am going to share with you what I see through the eyes of my heart and not my head. After all, I am a spiritual counselor; my view on this is a little different.
If you want to understand death and dying, there is much to learn in a nursing home. Mom used to say “Getting old ain’t for sissies Nina” and it’s not, it takes willingness, perseverance, and a smile. One of the things I learned in hospice is that I am a visitor and a helper. Before I walk into any house or facility I do a self-check, first I remind myself that the elders I am visiting lived an entire life before I arrived. After that I leave all judgments, opinions and expectations in the car. Entering a facility open hearted allows me to be present for whomever needs me. Walking into a nursing home with the eyes of the heart and not the head gives a different experience all together!
Recently, I recall a memory that really stayed with me I was walking down the corridor watching an old woman maybe in her 90s gazing out the window. As I watched her I sensed a longing; one hand was resting on the railing, the sun was softly lighting her face. In those few moments I felt those days gone by for her, a time that used to be there for her. I walked past her with my presence, with a smile and an inner radiance of deep love for an aged human being. First thought for most people is, “That it is so sad. She wants to be outside. She misses her garden, she is all-alone.” and the mental talk goes on. What is sad for a human is that she has reached old age, she is in the last chapters of her life. It’s more of a preparing for a good-bye to what once was. I don’t know what was going on in her head, I just know compassion, empathy that I too God willing, will reach old age. I walked by sending her love and wishing her well on her journey in this place. Yet, what I also witness in the nursing home are happy people that make the best of it. They keep smiling and are kind to one another, then there are the ones that are just miserable no matter what is done for them. How is this different than people who are not old or living in a nursing home? One wonders who was happier in their lifetime? How are their relationships with their children? There is a saying in hospice that is not entirely true but in my 18 years of experience it fit most of the time for me. It is said that most of the time people die the way they have lived. You might have to see for yourself, and if people have died that are close to you it might ring true for you.
Here is a beautiful example of a life lived. This man was an inspiration to me to be a better person. I had the opportunity to visit a blind man in his 90s. He lived alone in a cold, dark, room. As I surveyed the situation upon entering, the mental chatter had begun and was also gone in seconds as soon as he said hello to me. Whenever I would visit, I would pull up a chair get comfortable and listen to a life lived. He was always happy and ready for conversation even though his diagnosis was dementia (which I never understood). I also used to accompany him in the dining room and help him with his lunch. My old friend was always kind to his fellow residents, some with very severe dementia. While he ate lunch some yelled and were demanding, it was chaotic and quite an experience to witness. My point being when this man used to tell me about his life, it was a life full of love and kindness. He talked of his deceased wife as if she was the most beautiful woman on earth. He helped many, many children as a foster parent. When his time comes there will not be a struggle.
So if your visiting someone in a nursing home or you’re volunteering, don’t add to the sadness; be curious, bring in light, radiate love and see lives lived. This will help these souls as they prepare in a nursing home, for their journey to their true home.