This morning as I made my way down the hall, I noticed one of the resident’s who has been living in my facility for five years, sitting on the edge of her bed, eating a sandwich. Her movements were slow, her eyes fixed, her face, void and expressionless. I greeted her by name, to which there was no response. There she sat, staring into empty space, slowly raising the sandwich to her mouth, unmoved by the sounds or voices around her. I thought about the days when she was a “fireball” in the facility, stopping every guest to ask the same question.
“Hey where are you from? I am from Maine. In Maine we park the car in the yard”. She spoke the words in the best Maine accent I had ever heard. The saying “park the car in the yard” must have an inside joke type of meaning, but every guest would laugh along with her. She would often go outside and take long walks, chain smoke cigarettes and talk to anybody that would listen. Over the years, dementia has taken a toll. It seems each week, this vibrant, chatty woman becomes more frail, losing more cognition each day. She no longer chats, no longer smokes, no longer tells her funny New England jokes. She merely exist.
During lunch today, I had to run home to meet a repairman. As I was driving along, I began noticing the other drivers around me. A delivery truck driver appeared to be annoyed that he had to work today. The scowl on his face said ” go ahead cut me off and see what happens”. Another driver seemed angry as he yelled into his cell phone. Yet another seemed content to hold a white poodle, as the dog’s ears flew in the breeze from the open driver window. As I approached the stoplight, I noticed an older woman, both hands clenching the steering wheel. Her eyes were focused on the road ahead. The light turned green, and she slowly began moving forward. The car horns behind her startled her, causing her to grip the wheel even tighter, revealing the stress she felt. I noticed a beautiful BMW 700 series, fully loaded, cruising along side of me. Business woman, talking in the device attached to her ear. She was looking at the road, yet glancing to her right every other second. At the next stoplight, I could clearly see she was absorbed in a folder that contained a large bundle of paper. She would flip through the folder, speak into the blue-tooth, and seem aggravated that whoever was on the other end was not following along with her ramble.
As I turned onto my two lane road, I was stuck behind a dump truck, crawling at a snails pace. The fellow driving would look in his rear view mirror, daring me to pass him, as his truck crept up the hill. I followed him for a mile, noticing him each time he noticed me in the mirror. I backed off from him, dropping back three car lengths, feeling threatened by his non verbal challenge.
Arriving at my home, two repairmen were waiting for me in my driveway. Both checked their watches as I stepped out of the jeep. The money meter had started. The men checked my heat pump, explaining it was not under warranty, well wait, the water heater is under warranty but the pump that sits on top of it is not. Huh? The men were fretted with my lack of understanding, and began explaining to me in child like terms, “This is the water heater. This is what your in home plan covers. This pipe separates the pump, so the pump is not part of the warranty plan you have.” It seems to me, when parts are attached, the system is a system, not separated by purpose. If my car is under warranty, the whole car is covered, not things separated by wires. Whatever. They were the “Warranty Experts” and they marked my work order as “not covered.” They seemed to take pride in the power they had to reject my claim.
Driving back to work, my mind raced. I thought about the resident and her absence from herself. I thought about the drivers I had encountered. I thought about the repairmen.
We are all appointed to do two things in life, pay taxes and die. Why do we sped so much time being angry, frustrated, annoyed and overall miserable people? If I could take every person that existed on a tour of a nursing home and explain to them in the language the repairmen used it would go like this:
“This is a nursing home. This is where the buck stops. You had a chance to live your life. You had the chance to find your purpose, to love your family and become the person God called you to be. Now you will sit and wait until your number is up. You will slowly decline every day. Then it is over.”
Do you think if we all knew the outcome of our journey in life, would we live it a little differently? Would we be more pleasant? Would be be less engrossed in things that really aren’t that important? Would we be in such a hurry that we must blow the horn at little old ladies, instead of smiling and encouraging her to be as independent as she could be?
We, as humans need happiness and contentment in our lives. We all, will one day, be old. We need to be better human beings while we can. We need to be kinder to one another. We need to appreciate others. We need to do what we can while we still can. We need to slow down, take notice of others and become a better person each day…………it’s the little things that matter the most.