Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
If you read my last column (“Follow your dreams, and believe”; Dec. 6), you may remember the references to my mother being my inspiration to be a writer. She must still be inspiring me from above because as I was writing, I was reminded of another topic upon which I place much importance: keeping our loved ones alive. I’m not talking about the extraordinary measures we often take to maintain life at all costs, but about the long-term results of some of those measures.
Many years ago, while working in an Emergency Room, a patient arrived from a nursing home. She had Alzheimer’s dementia and could no longer communicate with the world. She was restless, disheveled and her vacant face somehow echoed sorrow, although she couldn’t express it.
As I reviewed her chart, I saw that she was once a military nurse and my heart broke. Who was she? What was she like? Was she a stoic, tough nurse with marshmallow inside or a soft, compassionate nurse who wore her heart on her sleeve? One thing was certain. At some point in her life she was smart enough to become a nurse and disciplined enough to be in the Army. She was a veteran. What was her service like? Was she stateside, caring for our wounded warriors upon arrival to the military hospitals here, or was she in a MASH unit, close to the battlegrounds?
Not long after that, my own mother suffered a debilitating stroke. She was not communicating, and my sister and I made the heart-wrenching decision to remove her tubes and let her go. As I was preparing to make the trip to Pennsylvania, I received a call. While they were awaiting an ambulance that would take her to the hospice center, Mom woke up and began to stroke my sister’s hair. Crying, Sally told me that we couldn’t let her go. She believed that Mom had told her she wasn’t ready.
She spent two long years in a nursing home being fed by a tube, unable to walk, and barely able to speak. The staff called her “Sweetie.” and “Honey,” which I knew she intensely disliked. She always felt that these “terms of endearment” were disrespectful to people, and to this day, I grate my own teeth and bite my tongue when someone calls me by those names. The unfortunate part was that she knew what was going on, and she begged me to “take me home.” How I wanted to, but I couldn’t. It destroyed me.
What I did then was my last meaningful gift to her. I created a memory book for the staff of the nursing home. I went through everything I had and collected old pictures of her, her parents and sisters, of us and our families, pictures of her in her uniform, even pictures from her high school yearbook. I included some of her writing.
I wrote my own story about who my mom was. She was a proud woman, a member of the first Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp, a mother and a grandmother. She liked to sing, dance, write and garden. Her name was Thelma, her nickname was “Toots,” she was an intelligent woman, and she hated those other “cute” names.
She cried pitifully when I gave her my gift. I knew she was grateful because she continually flipped through the pages with her one good hand. The staff loved it. Similar interests became evident and they could finally speak to her because they knew who she was.
The holidays are here. Please consider doing this for your loved one. Meaningful gift ideas are hard to come by for the residents of nursing homes. To the staff of long term care facilities: take the time to learn about your patients. Perhaps they can’t communicate, but in many cases, they are “in there,” silently wishing that someone would understand them and speak to them as a person, by their given names. Give a gift of love to your patients this season: your time.
Patricia Schoch is originally from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania but has lived in North Carolina for 30 years. A retired nurse, children’s book author, and freelance writer, she now resides in Wake Forest. Pat can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: https://itsallwrite.net.