If you have never stepped foot in a Nursing Home, let me tell you that its NOT an easy place for anyone to enter, especially for the people who reside there. For you and me, we take it as scary entrance into Old and Deathdom Valley. For those who move in, its taken as an entrance into hell and punishment, looking at the other residents as old and decrepit… seeing themselves as young and able. As you enter, you are abruptly welcomed with a stench of medicines, cleaning products, and an indescribable funk. Walking the halls are women in wheelchairs clutching on to baby dolls, people screaming and singing strange songs to no one, men asking you “Where is my room?” It’s heartbreaking, frightening and eye opening.
I’d like to share the story of how one musician dedicates his time to bring smiles and joy to these elderly residents. Making their day as he comes to perform concerts with his guitar and his canine companion. He brings the sunshine and happiness!
My travels have brought me to Asheville, NC. We are celebrating mommy’s birthday – Happy Birthday dahhhhling – You Look of so Fabulous at 41, again!
Also we are visiting granny in the nursing home, who does not realize today is her daughter’s birthday. Grandma is a very old 80 year old woman; I mean that in a way that there are very much younger 80 year olds out there still actively with it who have a lot more going for them. Today, Grandma cannot remember what she had for lunch; she can barely hear you when you shout; she cannot sit, stand, go to the bathroom, yet alone take off her sweater by herself. Going to the dining hall, we have to cut her food up for her in tiny bite-sized pieces, put a bib around her neck, and remind her not to stick her fingers in her mouth to pull out the food that she can’t swallow. She wants us to take her to the bathroom, but we can’t take her alone anymore bc the nursing home is afraid that she may fall and break her bones. Her muscle memory is gone to the point that she really does not remember how to swallow or make her legs stand up. It breaks our heart and is so hard to see. Shakespeare was so correct and I fear to see it today, my beautiful grandmother,
“That ends this strange eventful history,
Is Second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” (Shakespeare, As You Like It”)
I am comforted in the nurses attempt to make my grandmother smile, he pretends that her teeth are talking to her after he helps her take them out of her mouth to clean them. She toothlessly laughs and asks him, “Does your wife enjoy your sense of humor?”
Yesterday when she was feeling pretty rotten and in pain, I heard her calling out to Jesus, to God to come in there and help her get off the toilet by herself. I had never heard her do this and it quite frightens me. She repeats at the top of her lungs, “Oh Jesus! Oh God help me. Oh Jesus come help me. Oh God I don’t know what to do. Oh Jesus… Oh God help me!”
The same good-hearted nurse later tells me, “On her bad days when she cries out to Jesus to come to help her, I come in there I put out my hand for a handshake and introduce myself as Jesus. It gets her out of her zone.” That brings a smile to my face. He truly cares and really wants to help comfort her.
After he leaves her room, after he has “toileted her”, and changed her, she secretly tells me how cute she thinks he is. He is an angel, and I am relieved that she is really fond of him and his cute funny ways. She is so with it at times like these, so sweet and I see the grandmother that I remember.
We talk about grandmothers life with her recalling all of the details. How she spent 29 years working as a nurse at the army hospital working long hard hours working with the alcohol and drug addicted patients. She had so much patience with her patients. They all lived at the army hospital as their last attempt before being discharged from the army. These strong army men who fought battles in war had to pass grandmas test, or they were released dishonorably from the army forever. She was award many great accomplishment achievement award for her time and great work. She was and is an amazing woman! Only now she is at the mercy of her nurses.
Tonight I took her to the 6 o’clock concert in the nursing home. By some strange coincident… or fate, it happens to be the same musician as the Christmas singer back four months ago, my last visit. This is only his second time singing for the residents here. I think he is amazing grace, his devotion and compassion for these forgotten residents is inspiring. If I could sing or capture the spirit of these people like he does I would devote my time as he does. His name is Dana Bergman and promotes “Songs for Seniors” and “Songs of Faith and Praise” and “Songs and Ballads from the 40’s through the 70’s.” He knows his audience and speaks to them with words that they hear and understand. His stage presence is such that he makes full on eye contact with everyone in the audience, engaging every member. He makes it a special point to walk through the audience kneeling down on one knee to sing a special lyric or chorus to one special person at a time, always well received. It makes the difference. He sings songs that they know and can sing and dance in the chairs along to. While singing a happy song, he approaches the woman in the front clapping and tapping her feet to the beat. He calls her Happy Feet, and she applauds with great energy. She craves and needs this attention. Sitting in front of me were two women, eighty or ninety-something… I don’t know them… But the woman in the wheel chair blindly reached her hand out to her neighbor in the red sweater for compassion. Red sweater cradled her neighbors hand and gave it a kiss. They held hands for the rest of his songs.
Just remember that today when you feel like you need attention, wait till you are 80 with barely anyone arond you for days on end, how much more attention you will crave. Respect your elders and appreciate all of the challenges that they have paved for you. Find peace and beauty in everything around you. Capture every moment.
Life is short, enjoy the music.