For almost all of her 98 years, my mother has kept a journal. Yesterday I saw her first attempt since she has been at the Residential Facility.
It was an almost illegible scrawl in red ink. A confused rambling asking for her distant husband, Al. A garbled sentence of certainty that she was there to die. And at the end of the brief paragraph just the word, ‘Help!’
Her mind may be slipping, but she knows the inevitable end. And so do I. She needs to stay busy.
It seems that the kind and caring staff at her facility and I both agree. Activities of any and all kinds will keep her mind and body active. And for the time she is engaged in them, the black-crow thoughts of death will dissipate. Or at least they can be staved off and held at a distance for a time.
Activities at the Facility are posted on a huge 3 foot by 4 foot calendar in the main hallway. Every day is full of things to do. Bunko, Bridge, and Bingo. Dominoes and Poker. Scrabble and Puzzles. Painting classes and Spanish lessons. Ice cream socials at 2 p.m. with entertainment by musicians, university choirs, and Karaoke singers. Even occasional educational lectures – story-telling time—by yours truly.
And then there are the off-campus events. Dinners with the Red Hat ladies, visits to the aquarium, van rides to local church services, trips to plays and concerts in nearby Conroe, even excursions to the ‘gambling dens’ at the Native-American casino in Livingston where they can play penny slots. Anything that the staff can think up.
Some of the residents attend every single activity without fail. One in particular that I know of joins every activity and every outing. The only exception is poker. The rest, she says, keep her mind sharp and keep her out of her room. And, evidently, they also keep her from worrying about the future. Many of the residents feel the same way and work hard to keep themselves entertained.
Other residents, however, rarely leave their rooms. In the Assisted Living Section, Connie, their Activities Director, works like a Trojan to get her charges to join in. Try as she might, many of them will not be budged. Either their energy level is not sufficient to join in or they forget to go. In Mom’s case, it is the latter. She doesn’t seem to understand the clock anymore.
So many facilities, it seems to me, are merely warehouses for the elderly. Not all facilities work so hard to entertain their residents. For many of the companies there is little interest and less effort to provide activities or entertainment. It is expensive, after all, and if the bottom line is profit, it is cheaper to just let the residents—the paying customers—stay in their rooms. Feed them periodically like animals in a zoo but leave them to their own devices.
It seems to me such a shame to waste all that experience and expertise. I know many others have expressed these same concerns. Years and years of accumulated wisdom. Knowledge and skills that could be passed on. Something, anything, to make the residents feel useful and needed. Something to give them a reason to live.
Mom has begged to help me with projects. She wants to feel useful. She needs to feel needed. I rack my brain to think of some industry, some business, some paying activity that could be carried out by our elderly. What can they do? Something that even the feeble-minded could help with? Something that even the weak and frail could do? I come up with nothing.
As more and more of our elderly are admitted to these ‘warehouses’—and more and more will be as my Baby Boomer companions and I slowly begin to fail—we are wasting a valuable and worthwhile part of our society. What is to be done with us?
Mom, at 98, is not the oldest resident. But she is an example of the many who are living longer and longer. But living longer to what end? To be warehoused and ignored? To become a useless and expensive appendage in our society? Are the Native peoples right to take their ancients out to ice floes or high mountain peaks?
We may not want to go, but it’s a future we must consider.
Okay, I apologize. I didn’t mean for this to get so morbid. Mom had a delightful day yesterday. We went out for Panda Express lunch, we shopped, and we went out to dinner with three generations of the family. We indulged in DQ ice cream cones to end the day. She was happy.
The best advice? Live one day at a time and stop worrying about ice floes and mountains.