January 13, 2009
Today I spent time there, too. It was the first time I've seen my aunt in a year, I'm ashamed to say. But it's been very busy and whenever my mom has gone, I've been unable to. That's no excuse. But my aunt doesn't know me at all anymore, so I was mostly going for my mom. And my mom was okay with me going whenever our schedules meshed. Today was the day.
My mom had told me about it there; shared stories about the people and who they had once been. She told me she played games with them and that most of them were sleeping when she was there. I was ill prepared. First, I was actually surprised at how clean and bright and beautiful the place was. I was selfishly grateful for not being immediately depressed at the sight of a dark, sad place. My mom took me upstairs to where she was in the middle of her session and introduced me to the people who were awake. I think she even introduced me to those who were asleep. Even though she knew everyone's name, she made them tell me their names so they could use their minds, and their voices. Most of them seemed proud to know their name, and to meet Joan's daughter.
Then my mom informed them all that I was on television. This seemed mildly exciting. I explained the shows I work on and then I had a seat and watched as my mom asked them questions about who invented the telephone and what it means to be "red in the face". "Embarrassed!", shouted on of the women, jovially. "Angry!", shouted another. My mom let both answers win.
Then my mom had those whose eyes were open tell me what they had done for a living before coming there. Well, before than even. One was a clerk, one a model, one made clothes for movie stars. One woman has a daughter who is a judge and one man was a producer on TV shows in the 50's. He didn't tell me that. My mom did.
At this point I was too enthralled with my mom and all of her kindness and strength and beauty to be saddened by what was around me. That was my first lesson of the day. My mom rules. I've always known that. People love my mom and they always have. But it was so great to see her in a light I hadn't seen her in. She's amazing and I have a renewed admiration for her.
Then we all went into the dining room (after many protestations from those who wanted my mom to stay there and talk to them a few more hours!) THAT is where it all hit me. These people. These PEOPLE! They were all something once. And now here they are not even knowing who they are. Nurses are feeding them. Some of them aren't even eating. One woman desperately wants to go home and is trying to find someone to take her. Most can't walk on their own. Most don't recognize their closest relatives.
Outside everyone's room is a shadow box with photos from their younger days, a doll they love, a special trinket, a memory. Those who visit can see what they used to look like, how they used to smile, maybe even who they loved. But here they are now and they are like empty shadow boxes. You can see in their eyes that they were vibrant once but now the lives they led are missing.
It was one man in particular who really got to me. I had seen his shadow box because my mom pointed it out to me. He had been so handsome. He had a beautiful family and was very successful. In the dining room my mom said, "That's the handsome man I showed you". I only saw his back. He was wearing slacks and a beautiful dress shirt, which is probably how he always dressed. He was slumped over in a wheel chair being fed by his caretaker and his daughter came in with a photo album. He paid no attention to her and seemed angry that he had to eat. I felt such sorrow for all the happy days he had lived and all the sad ones that he now lived.
In that moment I thought, "What's it all worth? Why push so hard and love so much if that's how it could all end up?" In the next moment I thought differently, "If that's how it could all end up... I better live every day to the fullest." FUCK sweating the small stuff. I want to be happy every day of this life. Every moment that I have with my family, I want to be a beautiful moment. I want my son to look back on his days with me and think he had an amazing childhood, an amazing family. I want to do silly things and fantastic things and I want to be as happy as I can possibly be at every moment of every day.
I am really going to try to do that. I wish there was a way to harness the determination I felt sitting in that room looking at these people. I hope with all of my soul that the lives they used to live were filled with beauty. Because if not, I truly don't understand the way the world works.
I'm going to try to go there with my mom at least once a month now. I want to remind myself of the lesson I learned (or re-learned) today. And I want to be there for her as well. I'd like to be there to cushion the blow because she has made so many of my days happy and while we're all alive and aware... We should do what we can to bring each other beauty, too.