Elder Series – Until I Fall In a Bed

M Dawn Thacker has compiled a series of short stories about elders, their experiences aging, and the challenges they face. M Dawn continues her series with Until I Fall In a Bed…

 

I come face to face with an acquaintance of mine in the grocery store. We hug and she stares at my chest. “Are you still working at that place?” She asks.

It happens all the time. I smile and realize I’ve forgotten to take off my name badge.

“I’ll be there until I fall in a bed,” I say laughing. It’s my usual reply to this question.

She grins at my lame joke, shakes her head, and says, “better you than me. You deserve your pick of beds. I don’t understand how you’ve done it all these years. How can you work in such a depressing place?”

So many people look at me with disbelief, pity, even horror, and ask that question. I don’t understand it, but I can’t find a quick reply either, because it’s all I’ve ever known.

There’s one thing that’s certain. I don’t want to be anywhere else. I’d like for these people to be me for just one day, to see through my eyes. Then, they might understand. I look forward to getting up and going to work every morning. I don’t even like to think of it as work. It feels more like my second home, an extended family. Sometimes I lose track of time during the day, not believing it’s five o’clock, not wanting to leave because there’s so much left to do.

Sure, sometimes working in a nursing home is depressing. I’ve lost friends to death, but what I’ve gained through my relationships with them, has more than made up for the sadness of my loss. The gift of sharing their lives is precious to me. It’s easy being a frail elder’s hero, when all it takes is helping someone put on a warm sweater, raising a glass of water to a dry mouth, or sitting for a few minutes to listen to a World War II story.

I guess people who are not one of “us” wouldn’t quite understand. When I say “us” I mean those of us who know we belong, who have a passion for care giving. It’s a calling I think, something that compels us to open our hearts to receive the gifts elders have to give at the end of their lives. We find the ultimate joy in a wrinkled face, holding a hand gnarled with arthritis, and offering time to appreciate some stories from long ago. We want to help. We wouldn’t be complete unless we were allowed to do what we do.

People don’t believe me when I say I was born and raised in the nursing home. The born part is a lie, but the raised part is all truth. I began my life in the nursing home at the age of four when my mother took me there to visit a friend. The place became as much a part of me as my arm or leg. As a little girl, I danced among wheelchairs to bluegrass tunes, played on guitar and sung by old men. More Grandma’s than I could count helped teach me to read.

In Junior High School, I adopted Mrs. West. Her only son had died young, and she was lonely for family. She framed my ninth grade school picture and it smiled at her from a bedside stand. We baked brownies, cried together over old movies, and sat under the dogwood tree when it bloomed in spring.

I married at nineteen. Mrs. Ewell sat me down and gave me a good lecture on the perils of taking a husband so young. “You have lots of time to pick out a man. I wish you’d finish college first,” she said.

I nodded, smiled, patted her hand, and planned the wedding anyway. She organized my bridal shower at the nursing home, and threw rice at my reception.

After nine years of night classes, I donned my cap and gown and joined the graduation parade as it filed down the lawn at Mary Baldwin College, forty-five minutes away from the facility. A van load of elders, parked in the handicapped space nearest the folding chairs, cheered me on as I walked to receive my diploma. They were as proud of me as my mama and my husband.

Two years later, I sat in Mrs. Phillips’ room crying and overcome by hormones. “I don’t know what to do with a baby. I’m an only child. I’ve never been around babies.”

“You’ll do just fine Honey,” she said. “Women been giving birth for years now and seem to know just what to do when it happens. You got all of us here anyway if you have questions. I bet you ask twelve different women and you’ll get twelve different answers. Trial and error, and then some apologies to the baby if something doesn’t go exactly right. One thing’s good. Babies don’t remember the first few practice years.”

We laughed, and everything did turn out alright.

Now my boys have grown up in the same nursing home. They have stories to tell, and bits of advice to help them along in life. Resident’s names are different, but the wisdom and love come from the same cup.

I’m approaching menopause now and Mrs. Curtis finds me on the front porch of the facility in thirty degree weather fanning my hot face. She chuckles, wrapped up warm in her wool coat. “I remember those days Honey. It’ll pass. Go out and cut you some red clover or kudzu vine, make a tea and drink it. That’ll help.”

I remember a time when I wouldn’t question her wisdom. I’d run to the nearest field, gather the ingredients and suck down the antidote. I’m a bit more leery in my advancing years though, and stop to consider things now. I write down her recipe though, plan to do some research, and thank Mrs. Curtis anyway.

When I began my life at the nursing home, I had one hundred forty great-grandparents. As I aged, they turned into grandparents and currently I have one hundred forty parents. One day soon, I will have one hundred forty peers, and if I live long enough, I will become one of my beloved elders. I hope that day arrives, and when it does, I plan to be exactly where I am, doing exactly what I do, and I suppose I really will fall into that bed.

 

Until I Fall In a Bed © 2011 M Dawn Thacker. Read M Dawn’s latest on Now.readthisplease.com and check back for the next story in her Elder Series.

 


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