There is only one conclusion to be drawn from working in an assisted living facility – and a fine four-star “resort” for the elderly it is:
Life is cruel.
By virtue of having been released from the confines of the kitchen into housekeeping, where entering apartments and interacting with the residents occur regularly, I’m exposed to the realities of aging.
And they are harsh!
Gone are the free use of legs. Compromised mobility. Walkers are a dime a dozen. Those fortunates who can get around without walkers move on brittle or creaking bones.
I think so often as I buzz down the long hallways at a brisk pace of the residents before me and behind me, negotiating the carpeted passageways at a laboriously slow and not infrequently pained pace. People who like me strode fitfully and in ease with no clue to the future of challenged mobility – or imoobility – that awaited them around the corners of a couple short decades.
Then there’s the loss of bodily functions; bladder and/or bowels degenerated by aging. Residents whose beds and chairs in their private high-end apartments must include protective pads.
Then there are the diapers, packages replacing the former boxes of tampons or pads for the ladies and an altogether new hygiene product for the men.
Then there’s state of mind, a far more complex topic than any single blog post can cover. Memory loss. Dementia. Some Alzheimer’s. Depression. The loss of will to live. Pain. Suffering. The loss of life, internally.
The other day, as I delivered laundered sheets to a resident whose name is Doris, I arrived just as she was struggling to undress and go to bed.
The hour: only 6 p.m.
And while I’m disinclined to share the details of that so-called simple act of disrobing a woman whose back is bent with age and skin as loose and wrinkled as grape skins shrunken and dried by the sun — because it was a holy and intimate act — truth is that it broke my heart.
It breaks the heart the grave that life digs for us when we get old.
Through it, some will rally onward, losing a little more ground with each step along the way.
Some will fight the alleged good fight.
Some will rage against the dying of the light, going not gently into that night.
Some will find their peace by succumbing to the slowdown, illness, immobility, depression, lassitude.
Some will sit waiting for Death to come knocking in his time when he will..
Some will beg, pray and plead for him to come early.
Some will beg, pray and plead for the medications just to stop the pain. The pain that living returns.
I understand them all and better than I did before I began working amongst the elderly.
And my job — not just my job but life experience — has only furthered and deepened my enduring sensibility and conviction:
Life for life’s sake ain’t it. It’s about quality of life.
And I for one have absolutely no problem with a plug being pulled, a fatal dose of morphine pumped into a vein, an overdose of sedatives or a bullet put through my skull to end a life when conditions merit, when marked deterioration trumps any chance, hope or reasoned possibility of life. getting. better.
Life shows no mercy. It is up to us, as human beings, to find it, extend it and share it.
Generally we exit much as we arrived: Small/shrunken, alone, dependent, perhaps diapered, perhaps with limited or no mobility, perhaps with limited or compromised communication abilities, perhaps with minds somewhere else, unrooted in reality.
Seniority in a company might be an achievement – some see it that way. Seniority in life is kinda the shits.
May the good Lord or Spirit or universe or whatever be your concept of the beyond or higher realms have mercy on you when your time comes.
Because from where I sit and what I see five days a week, we’re gonna need it!