Not My Beautiful Room

My Aunt Rose has always had her share of problems, not the least of which were my dad's other sisters. To hear them bicker like children, I wonder how my dad survived growing up with four of them like that. Aunt Rose never married, and ended up living alone in an apartment after my grandparents were gone and the other sisters wanted to sell the family house in which she still lived. She went along with her oldest sister who orchestrated the whole thing, going so far as to hire the family lawyer to sue my dad when he disagreed. He managed to hold on to a garage and a lot across the street, but the house was gone and Aunt Rose was on her own.

A few years ago after hitting some financial and emotional problems, the Aunts moved her in to an assisted living facility when they deemed her unable to live on her own. Perhaps it was the near-fatal overdose of pills she took the day of my high school graduation party. Being in a home wasn't much better, where they overmedicated her to the point of being a zombie, where she may also have been subjected to shock therapy, if I'm not mistaken. But, somehow the old Aunt Rose came back, better than ever. She started showing emotions again, got back into crocheting which she's very good at, and even took some classes and learned how to e-mail, keeping in touch with my oldest aunt who now lives in Florida. She would still get depressed sometimes, and miss her old apartment, which set her sisters into less than tactful squawking. “FORGET about that apartment ROSIE! That apartment is GONE! You don't live there anymore!”

Last week, when she refused to eat, they transferred to the hospital for a few days to feed her intravenously. Once she was eating on her own again, she was back in the regular nursing home, and my mom thought it would be a good idea to visit her this weekend for Easter, before visiting her brother, my Uncle Jerry, in his nursing home. Over the years, we've cut back on holidays with my dad's side of the family because of the all the stress involved, and the last time I saw them was probably a year or two ago for my Aunt Josie's 80th birthday party.

My parents had been to this nursing facility a few times to see my aunt, but I had not. Once we got there, I recognized the place for some reason, and my mom pointed out that I'd played a gig for the senior citizens there with one of my bands, I guess about 10-15 years ago. They had renovated the place considerably and added several buildings, and sections still seemed under construction. With my dad grumbling in the backseat that I was taking the bumps too quickly(5 MPH) and “wrecking his car”, I eventually made it to a parking spot near what my dad thought was the correct building. The sign on the entrance said to use the stairwell door instead while they were working on the building, so that's what we did. But looking through the window in the door, it seemed like we were behind some sort of kitchen. So we began to go up.

Now, my father is 80 and having a triple bypass on Friday. My mom is 71 with asthma, and a chronic cough her doctor attributes to a combination of the asthma, postnasal drip, and stress. So here I am in a dusty stairwell, leading these two up flight after flight. The first floor had a sign on the door that said an alarm would sound if opened. The second floor was locked and dark. The third floor door opened, but there was a piece of fabric stretched across at waist-height. The next floor was the roof, and I could see pieces of crumbled drop ceiling hanging down and strewn across the steps. We couldn't go up any further, so ducking under the fabric was our best bet. My folks caught up soon enough, and my dad got through just fine. But my mom knocked that fabric loose as she was ducking under it, and a horrible buzzing sounded. She quickly replaced it, but it was too late.

“Um...sorry...” I said sheepishly, to the nurse who came running to investigate. My dad explained he was looking for his sister and gave the wing and room number, and the nurse told us we were in the wrong building entirely. She led us to a bank of elevators and told us where to go when we got downstairs, to a set of doors which would lead us out to a courtyard. Aunt Rose's building was across the courtyard on the other side of the compound. We thanked her, and were on our way, before the staff decided to keep my parents.

The other building was much nicer than the one we'd gone through, which looked like a cross between the hospital in Silent Hill 2 and Arkham Asylum. The place was grungy and falling apart, and the patients looked unkempt and mad. This one had nice light fixtures and carpeting, and was clearly post-renovation. On the third floor, we found my Aunt in her room, lying in bed despite the beautiful day outside. Other than that, she looked better than she had in years. She'd lost some weight, and they'd dyed her hair black.

“I can't believe this is my apartment.” she kept repeating. It wasn't that bad, certainly larger than my room, although it did have the cold feel of a hospital room. Still, she had some of her old furniture in there, with a dresser, a television set, and plenty of family photos. And her window looked out over the courtyard. We offered to take her out in her wheelchair, but she only deflected with “maybe later”, waiting for my other Aunts to arrive. With Aunt Virginia in Florida and Aunt Mary under the weather, only my Aunt Josie arrived. She chided her sister for staying in bed, but did manage to feed her some fresh watermelon. I also went back to the nurse's station and got her some water. She expressed a desire to do activities, and kept talking about some man, some social worker who would come and get her. We had to keep reminding her that she was in a new building, and had only been there a few days, and had to sign up for the various activities. I read from her calendar and pointed out what was coming up in the next few days and weeks.

We'd converse for a bit, and every once in a while she'd sullenly come back to “I can't believe this is my apartment.” Also distressing was some unidentified yellow capsule that my mom found stuck in her afghan. She brought it to the nurse, who told her it probably fell when they tried to give it to her. The pill was discarded, with no explanation of what it was, and no record of whether or not my Aunt had gotten another in its place, or missed a scheduled dosage. The whole thing didn't inspire much confidence in the place, but it's all my aunt's insurance will cover. At least she's expressing interest in getting out of bed and going to activities, even if she didn't get up while we were there. I'll have to visit her again and see how she's doing, which of course depends on how my dad's surgery goes and, if all goes well, how long his recovery takes.

After we left my Aunts, it was on the the next nursing home. Uncle Jerry now uses a wheelchair since he was taking too long to get around with a walker, but he seemed very alert when we found him in the dining area with everyone else for Easter dinner. We left him to finish, and waited up in his room. When we went back downstairs to find him, the nurses must have brought him up in the elevator and we missed each other. Back upstairs, we spent some time with him as my mom washed his hands and clipped his nails. He was giggling and putting on a child's voice, and I think saying some things in Italian, though my mom said it was all gibberish. He definitely knew who I was, and was in the best spirits he'd ever been in. He remembered going to mass earlier and getting a rosary, and enjoyed a slice of apple pie my mom brought him.

After we left there, I took my parents to a local beach because my mom wanted to do something nice. She didn't come out and say it, but I know she's considering the possibility that this might be our last Easter together as a family. I got some photos of her with my dad while we were there. Then it was back home to our house, and to the nice dinner my mom had prepared earlier. There's something to be said for home, not just the familiar people and objects around us, but the actual room. My Uncle has a nice big room with wall to wall carpeting and full furniture and several sections. My Aunt has a room half that size, with linoleum floors and an open door to the hallway as though she's in a hospital. She's still mostly aware of her surroundings; he has complete dementia. In both cases, despite the things they managed to keep, or the things their family kept for them, those objects aren't enough to disguise either room. The longer you call a place home, the harder it is to say goodbye, especially when the choice isn't yours. I'm grateful for my home, as well as my youth and freedom, and I'm thankful that, for all their health woes, my folks are both still sharp as tacks. I know I'm a little bit “off”, more than a bit shy and socially awkward, but I hope I inherited the same mental genes as my parents, and not the ones that hit their respective siblings. I still want to be capable and as in control of my own destiny as possible when I reach that age. I don't want to look around a strange room one day and say, “I can't believe this is my apartment.”


Blogger Lorna said...

You just put yourself out there, don't you? It's very endearing.

4/06/2010 1:03 AM  
Blogger b13 said...

Chin up. Hang in there.

4/06/2010 3:13 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home