Wednesday, May 23, 2007

care home

We went to visit Ernie’s Dad in Kelowna at the care home on Sunday. He seemed particularly fragile, weeping easily and not remembering that Mom had died, or that he’d sold his farm in Saskatchewan many years ago. "Why am I here?" he’d asked repeatedly. "What am I waiting for? I was hoping you would take me to the farm today." By 11:30 we had pretty much exhausted topics of conversation, had taken him out for a walk and were parked at the table in preparation for lunch, which would be in 45 minutes.


About that time Bill arrived. Bill is the husband of Hattie, who sits at Dad’s table at mealtimes. Hattie has had Huntington’s disease for about 13 years. Every breakfast, lunch and supper Bill comes to feed her. Not only does he do that, but he also helps the other people who sit at the table. When Dad was new at the home, Bill made sure his meat was cut up – and he looks out for all of them that way.

So there he was again on Sunday, favoring his bad knees as he walked in (he’s in a lot of pain and on a ‘list’. "Good news," he said to us with not a little sarcasm in his voice, "they now tell me it's only a year to 18 months"). Though Hattie has no ability to talk, she sure can communicate. When Bill arrived she made all kinds of happy vocalizations and jerky movements with her hands, especially when Bill opened some containers and began to feed her her pre-lunch snack – what looked like chocolate pudding and pureed strawberries.

Another resident (don’t know his name – let’s call him Jimbo) who we’d passed in the entryway earlier wearing a toque and jacket and having a cigarette, came by just as Bill was about to feed Hattie another spoonful. Bill jokingly turned to Jimbo and said, "Open up." That brought a chuckle from everyone. Jimbo pulled up a chair beside Bill, it seemed just to be near this great guy.

A little later another table occupant took his place - actually his friendly white-haired wife brought him – a German man who is also slipping down the dementia slide. His wife was very solicitous of him, making sure his clothes were fixed, and urging him to sit up straight. He’d had his lunch already, she told us, some food she’d brought from home. He was there in case he was hungry for anything more. She told us how he doesn’t see too well and that, along with his declining memory makes him think that she is every white-haired woman in the place. She comes to visit and he tells her he has seen her all morning.

Just before noon the fourth table occupant rolled along, parked in his spot and the eight of us continued talking. Bill told us about the garden he was planting – how he had put in tomatoes and squash for his neighbors who in turn mow the lawn for him. He interrupted his story when one of the male nurses went by, to ask advice about being able to record videos on his new HD - TV recorder. "I used to be able to record tapes no problem," he told us. "Then I got this fancy new machine and I’ve got nothing but trouble!"

And so we chatted until they brought the lunch trays – about Bill’s garden and VCR problems, the German lady’s husband, our Dad – this motley crew of us, bound together by caring for our failing loved ones. And I got the nicest feeling of community, of belonging, of the sense that God was smiling on this knot of ordinary folks (some of whom are really very exceptional) brought together for a brief time on a little care-home island.

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