I hope everyone had a blessed and happy Thanksgiving this year! My family deviated from tradition slightly this year, possibly forging a new one along the way.
Normally, my Uncle Jerry would join us for such holiday gatherings. Since becoming too demented to live on his own, he's been relocated to an assisted living facility. We probably could have checked him out, but for various reasons I won't get into here, he would have been too much for us to handle. So for the first time in possibly ever, my parents and I had a quiet meal with just the three of us. My mom opted for seasoned deli chunks of turkey as opposed to getting a whole bird, but it was still quite tasty. As for corn, salad, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and the rest of the usual side dishes, they were all well and truly accounted for.
My mom also made an angel food cake, which my dad dug into right after the main meal. Since I'd only had my “breakfast” around 11:30 AM and we had “dinner” by 1 PM, I wasn't quite ready for dessert yet. My mom wrapped up a piece to take to my uncle, and soon we were on our way. Parking was abundant and I got a great spot, as most people had been checked out by their families for the day. Inside, my mom checked the main recreation room first in the hope that my uncle had ventured out of his room on his own. He had not. Upstairs, he didn't answer her knocking, but fortunately both she and her oldest brother have spares.
He shuffled to his feet from his bed at the far corner of the room. His television volume was cranking, which is why he probably didn't hear us. His face lit up with recognition when he saw me, but he's definitely not the full person he was a few years ago. My mom asked if he'd had a party that day, and had difficulty getting straight answers. He kept complaining it was cold, although even my folks thought it was hot and they're always cold. I'd thought ahead and worn a short sleeve shirt under my coat, knowing that a building full of the elderly would be warmer than I'd like.
My mom only turned her back on him for a minute or two to talk with my dad and I, who'd become engrossed in the end of Dr. Dolittle. More accurately, I was engrossed while my dad was just waiting for me to put the football game on for him. Meanwhile, Uncle Jerry had put on his neck pillow and climbed under the covers of his bed. “What are you, going back to sleep? HELLO??” asked my mom, when she turned back and saw what he'd done. Apparently he did the same thing to my other Uncle earlier in the week.
My dad by this point started muttering that we should just go home, that he could watch the game there. There really wasn't much point in visiting someone who wasn't aware of our presence. But a nurse soon arrived to take him down for the afternoon meal, and with some effort and help from my mom, they got him on his feet and got his jacket on. He shuffled along like the old man skit Tim Conway used to do, and insisted on taking the stairs rather than the elevator. Eventually we made it to the dining hall, and the nurse said we'd be able to sit with him since a lot of people were out for the day. One of the younger nurses walked by and my uncle shook her hand and introduced us. She'd met my folks before, and recognized me from my uncle's photos. When she moved to continue on her way, Uncle Jerry continued gripping her hand. “Oh, you don't want me to leave?” she asked. He just smiled. Player.
It took another ten minutes to traverse the dining area. “She's not there...” he mumbled, but we didn't know who he was looking for. One of the nurses? One of the patients he usually sits with? There were cards on the tables with people's names, but the staff told us we could sit anywhere. He got to his usual table and was joined by a few others, though one woman came over reluctantly, thrown off by the chaos of the “sit anywhere” business even after her son assured her that the assigned seat rule had been lifted for the day. My dad slipped off to find a television, and when all the other seats at the table were full I left my mom with her brother so I could find my dad. But I got stuck at a ramp where people with walkers kept materializing. It was like I was in some kind of video game. One would make it to the top and I'd start to proceed, but then “BAMF!”, a new one was at the bottom of the ramp. I was waiting so long that my dad actually came back, and called up to me that someone was turning on a television for him in the rec room, but he wanted me to ask my mom if it was okay, if it wasn't rude.
I told my mom that her “other son” was asking permission to watch TV, which she granted with a small smile. I checked on my dad for a bit as he watched the game in giant flat screen glory in a room all to himself, then back on my mom, who'd gotten food for my uncle to slowly pick at. Sandwiches probably weren't the best choice for someone with false teeth. Still, he managed, and had a better time with the potato salad and fresh fruit. One of the workers came around with various pills, but my uncle refused his. “We fight every night about this,” she told my mom. My mom had better luck sticking the pill in his mouth and getting him to wash it down with some juice. Then, after retrieving my father, we made the long journey back upstairs to my Uncle's room. Inside, Home Alone was just wrapping up on the television, and ”the old man got to me.” Fortunately, that one scene with that heart-tugging score didn't last long, and I maintained my composure for a family photo before we said good night, leaving my uncle standing in front of his bureau devouring the cake my mom had brought.
It's always interesting to see the people in that place, the varying degrees of competency and awareness. At one point while watching the game, my dad matter-of-factly told me, “Yeah, I think I'm going to die this year.” He's been saying that nearly every year as long as I've known him, but I still felt compelled to remind him that he's in much better shape than most people pushing 80. He rakes leaves, climbs ladders, carries things, and works on cars, and wonders why it puts more of a strain on him than it used to. Other guys his age are sitting staring at walls drooling. I'm thankful my family is still here, that their health is for the most part still good. My dad is in a lot better shape than he was at the beginning of the year when he was in a nursing home himself. He definitely didn't like being there and I don't blame him. But we had to be there for my Uncle, who despite asking us if we voted that morning, on some level of consciousness was aware of what day it really was, and that his family was there. My parents see him a few times a week, while I'm only there once every few months, yet he still knew enough to introduce me to people as his nephew. That's something to be thankful for. And all of the people in that home hopefully led exciting or interesting lives prior to settling there, and have memories they can be thankful of. As for me, I'm thankful that I can go where I want, when I want. The visit certainly served as a reminder that maybe I need to exercise my freedom more often, while there's still time. It all goes so fast. I'm thankful it doesn't go faster. And I’m determined to stick around on this world as long as possible, because I don’t want to miss anything. If I end up in a home with no internet access though, then and only then might I be ready to go....