I see a new face or two in the dining room almost every week, some happy, some sad. They hesitate at the entrance, unsure of where to sit. It is true that there is no assigned seating, but Heaven forfend, that someone should sit in a seat occupied by one of the long-timers. It is worse than sitting in someone’s family pew in church. Eventually, they find their way in and, like Carlos Castañeda, the philosopher from years ago, they feel for their space and settle in.
Lady O arrived at Mom’s table with a sour face and an unpleasant disposition. Her son and daughter had installed her at the Residential Facility without her approval. Perhaps she knew she had to come but she certainly didn’t want to. And she was going to take it out on everyone around her. We try to be nice to her but it’s hard.
Lady L, on the other hand, moved in quite cheerfully. She, too, would rather not have given up her lovely home but she knew she could no longer take care of it. She gave it to her daughter, sold all her beautiful things and accepted the small apartment as her new living quarters. The sadness comes on her occasionally, but for the most part she is accepting of her fate.
Mom is one of the newer arrivals. She too hesitated and chose a seat. Inadvertently, she took Lady I’s seat. Lady I is one of the really, really long timers—five years I believe—and is now nearly blind and partially deaf, her hands curled into claws by arthritis. She accepts with equanimity when someone sits in “her” place. As she told me, she has moved from seat to seat around the table many times over the years.
Other new arrivals, who don’t get out of their rooms hardly at all, are a mystery to us all. Their family moves them in. We see the sons and grandsons carrying furniture, the daughters and granddaughters arranging their things. They become the subject of much gossip, but they don’t cause problems. The officious organizer, Lady D, a petite but dynamic powerhouse, is more than willing to get them situated if they would just come out of their rooms so she could.
And then there are the goings.
I met him only once. A large, loud, cheerful fellow in a wheel chair sitting at a table across the way. After five years at the Facility, he had been away for surgery and rehabilitation. Now he was back. His pretty petite wife wheeled him in, accepting congratulations as they entered. He seemed to know everyone and was greeted as a returning hero. Hugs and kisses. Laughing and talking. He was back–but on Hospice. He doesn’t come to the dining room anymore. And we don’t ask his wife how he is.
Lady B of the broken hip is gone but there is still hope that she will be back. She is in rehab after surgery at another facility here in town. She will be going through painful physical therapy after her hip replacement for the next month but plans to return in September. We hope she does.
And there are the whispers and quiet sighs when a chair or a room becomes permanently empty. The word spreads and everyone goes solemn and quiet. Whispered condolences. A hug or two for the living. The Facility doesn’t hold services or funerals here. It is too potent a reminder of what awaits them all.
Then there are those, like Mom, slipping slowly away. She is not the only one. I see others like her, weaker every day. Moving more slowly. Eating less. Eyes no longer bright. Voices no longer loud. Memories no longer vivid. Their families come and go. They struggle to keep going. Mom still thinks she can be with her husband Al, out on the open road, traveling north and south with the tennis seasons. She thinks he will come to take her with him in October. Maybe he will.
I try to smile and tell her she’s fine.