One thing I have learned over the past three and a half years of visiting at Bickford is that life is not as bleak there as a cursory glance may suggest. If you’ve visited such a facility once and only saw old people sitting in chairs “doing nothing,” you haven’t looked closely enough. Recently, my father commented on how much he enjoys sitting in the living room when the (gas) fire is burning. He warms his feet and watches the flames flicker. He has shown me, several times, one of the decorative apples in a nearby Christmas arrangement that is covered in iridescent glitter. He then pointed out an ornament on a nearby Christmas tree that has a similar glitter. Doing nothing? Nothing but “living in the moment,” a state of mind many of us subscribe to, but rarely achieve. He feels the warmth of the fire, is entertained by the flames, notes in detail the lovely Christmas decorations, makes comparisons between them, and shares the beauty with his visitors. In short, he’s had a full experience despite the fact that his world has grown so tiny. Dad once traveled the world over, and I believe saw every continent but Antarctica. He has wonderful memories from those times, comments on what a lucky life he led, but now revels in the joys of sensation and relationship. Like a child discovering the world, he sees things I don’t, enjoys a few pieces of the small (I am learning!) bag of caramel corn I gave him (saving some for later), and drinks the hot chocolate offered one afternoon with gusto. His calendar is full of shower days, an occasional haircut, ice cream socials, and other small events. Clearly it is satisfying to him, and I am awed by his calm happiness where others might only see the futile beating of his heart. Accomplishment doesn’t appear to be everything.
On the other hand, I recently saw that Mom had a new name tag on her walker. It was pink with purple letters, and swings from the front bar on brown yarn. Yesterday, in one of the cozy alcoves at Bickford, Mom and I were looking at her Christmas present, a book from my youngest son called ZOOBORN. It was a perfect gift, with photos of babies animals from echidnas to the fennec fox. The photos are large enough for Mom to see them, and I can read the brief information about each one. Just then Myra, a delightful resident of Bickford, appeared, pushing her walker. She revealed that she had made the name tag for Mom, and had made one for Dad, which he had pronounced too big (he doesn’t want to be flashy!) and turned down. I cringed, and reminded myself that Dad is Dad, and I am not responsible for his actions. But Myra was not deterred, and made a smaller one. She was not pleased with the letter placement, however, and had a question for me. She’d noted that Dad had a Christmas wreath with (fake) antlers in it, and wondered if Dad had been a hunter. HA HA! No, indeed he wasn’t, not even a camper, I told her, having grown up in Brooklyn. Myra had been thinking about putting a small picture of a deer on the name tag to fill the space between two letters she felt were too far apart. I told her I got Dad the wreath because it was pretty, and also on sale. No, Dad was not a hunter.
Next Myra turned to Mom’s name tag again. She wanted to add a small picture of Coco to it for Mom to see as she walked. I didn’t have one, but on the back of the expired 2010 chocolate lab calendar there were some perfect ones that looked like Coco. Did she have scissors? Yes, she did, pulling them from the hanging pocket on the front of her walker. Myra is ready for any need, apparently. Once it was taped on to the inside of Mom’s name tag, Myra was pleased to think that Mom would see that as she walked down the hall. Never mind that Mom can’t see it–too small for her failing vision–it was a satisfaction to Myra. Pointing to the holes the yarn went through, she also told me that she hadn’t been able to push the one-hole punch she had with her hands and arms any more, due to a muscle-weakening condition she has. So she stomped out the two holes with her feet! I wanted to hug her for NOT GIVING UP. Thus accomplishment, it seems, is not meaningless, if not everything. My father’s need to accomplish is over; Myra derives satisfaction from making gifts for the residents that she can create with magazines (for the letters), card stock and glue. Both living in the moment and accomplishment live at Bickford and always will. You just have to pay attention to see it. Oh, and Dad apologized for turning down the large name tag, and has accepted the smaller one, which he showed me yesterday, rather pleased.