Waiting for What’s Next

All say, “How hard it is that we have to die” — a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live. ~Mark Twain, American writer

The smell assaults you as you walk in the door:
A blend of disinfectant, urine, and more.
Step into the world of an old folks’ home.

Balding men with once-gray hair
Slump untended in their wheelchair.
Step into the world of an old folks’ home.

Wearing expressions of sadness and gloom
As if they’re gazing into the mouth of a tomb.
Step into the world of an old folks’ home.

Women on walkers in faded clothes;
Thick droopy stockings covering their toes.
Step into the world of an old folks’ home.

Vacant eyes stare straight into space;
Few signs remain of their former grace.
Step into the world of an old folks’ home.

Aging is part of life on this earth.
Shouldn’t we do more to preserve someone’s worth
Than tuck them away, out of sight, out of mind?
To me that’s awful and far from kind.
Letting them vegetate until at last they die.
Waiting for time and life to slip by.

Adult diapers and shapeless sweats,
Hearing aids, oxygen, and thin blankets.
Step into the world of an old folks’ home.

Calling for help and no one shows up.
Staff overworked; hard to catch up.
Step into the world of an old folks’ home.

Hoping for a visit from friends or their kids,
A basket of goodies the doctor forbids.
Step into the world of an old folks’ home.

People live longer these days, I know,
But longer isn’t better, some cases show.
Alone and lonely is no way to live,
Not when all people have something to give.
There’s no easy answer, everyone agrees,
But can’t we at least try to solve it? Please?

35 thoughts on “Waiting for What’s Next

  1. “Aging is part of life on this earth.
    Shouldn’t we do more to preserve someone’s worth
    Than tuck them away, out of sight, out of mind?”

    A-MEN, Debbie! And that is something I noticed about the Japanese culture when I lived there for a summer, versus here in America. The Japanese believe that as one ages, they become more valuable and should be treated with the utmost respect. It was so beautiful to witness how they care for the elderly in that country.

    It saddens me to see how obsessively “youth driven” this country is.

    Hope all is going well with your mother, my friend.

    Wishing you a the best in 2023! X

    • Ron, it sounds as if the Japanese are handling aging better than we Americans are. You’d think that we’d have been able to solve this “problem” a long time ago, but no. Everybody wants to live to a ripe, old age, but nobody thinks they’ll be the one who suffers mentally or physically and needs care.

      Thanks for your concern about my mom. She had to go to the hospital right before the holidays and was discharged to a rehab-to-home facility. That’s what prompted my poem. Seeing those sad old folks just sitting around and waiting to die (some of them aren’t ever going back to their former homes) just breaks my heart.

      Hope 2023 is treating you right so far, my friend! xx

  2. I agree with Ron’s comment; we’re youth-obsessed, and miss so much because of it. It’s been years ago, and I have no idea where I came across it, but the title of an article about American nursing homes said it all: “Warehousing Wisdom.”

    Our most recent stupidity is further cutting the elderly off from their families because of Covid. A 98-year-old who’s near and dear to me recently landed in an ‘institution’ because of health issues. The people in charge are refusing to allow her kids to visit. As they say, “She might get Covid and die.” Uh….it’s better to condemn her to loneliness and an absence of the people who love her, and perhaps leaving her to die alone? As she would say, “Fiddlesticks!”

    • Linda, you make a great point. My mom tested positive for COVID just after she arrived at the rehab-to-home facility and was placed under 10-day quarantine. She’d been vaccinated and exhibited no distressing symptoms. My son Domer and I visited with her through a glass door, all on mobile phones. It certainly wasn’t the Christmas any of us had planned for, but I guess it was better than nothing.

      Surely, with all our American ingenuity, we can come up with a better way of dealing with our senior residents. I mean, if medicine can prolong life the way it’s doing, we need more compassion for those who reach those milestones.

  3. I think there should be a solution, but unfortunately, it would rest with the aged one’s kids. Most don’t have time for their parents these days so putting them away is the solution that is rationalized. A very poignant poem, Debby.

    • Thank you, John. I can sympathize with kids not wanting to care for their aging parents — it’s excruciating work, and many have never had this selflessness modeled for them. Nevertheless, tucking them away in a home can be cruel, particularly if the place is lacking in any way. I don’t know what the solution is. Right now, there isn’t one. The “senior living communities” are fond of showing healthy, happy, and relatively young people having fun. But with age, there often comes illness and disability … things most kids aren’t equipped to deal with. And finding capable home care nurses is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

  4. It’s so distressing waiting for what’s next, wondering what will happen if/when we become unable to care for ourselves. Your poem captures the gut-wrenching helplessness some of us feel when we have had to make difficult decisions, when nothing feels right. My grandmother had to go to a nursing home. Somehow we managed to care for my father at home. Both “solutions” were heartbreaking. I don’t know what the answer is…

    • Thank you, Barbara. I don’t know what the answer is either. I take care of my mom at home, but it’s becoming harder by the month. My folks put their parents in nursing homes, so I’ve had to learn this stuff on my own. And small communities just don’t have the resources large cities do, as to caregiver support or home care nursing. And I fret over those seniors who are “kinless” and don’t have any other option than to be placed in a facility. It’s just such a depressing topic for a new year, isn’t it, and I’m sorry for that, but it was on my mind.

      • You’re doing a wonderful thing, Debbie, and I know how hard and exhausting it is. We finally hired someone to come to the house for several hours almost every day so we could get some rest. (We had both my father and my aunt for a while there.) We definitely need more support, emotional and financial, for the unpaid caregivers who selflessly devote themselves to their elders.

        • What a lovely thing to say — thank you! You know, I used to feel sorry for folks I’d see caring for elderly relatives — who knew I’d be right there with them?! Thank you for all you did for your folks — I’m sure they appreciated it.

    • I don’t think we get to choose all the particulars of aging, Laurie. I guess that’s why we try to do what’s prudent while we’re able, so we can stay as healthy and active into our senior years as possible.

  5. It’s a sad reflection on our societies that we don’t seem willing or able to do better for our frail elderly. We’re having a big debate about it over here at the moment, and the consensus seems to be that everyone wants the government to provide better care for the elderly but no one wants to pay the taxes to pay for it. Which sadly is the British attitude to pretty much all kinds of care. And so we go on, with elderly people shoved into care homes with overworked, underpaid staff. The best solution would probably be to look after elderly people at home, but it’s not easy (in fact, it’s incredibly hard, physically and emotionally), especially with our small families these days, often spread all over the country. I’m sorry if this is a situation you’re having to face in your family, Debbie – I know from experience how hard these choices are.

    • Thanks for sympathizing. With all the bright minds across this huge earth, you’d think somebody would’ve come up with something that works. I suspect most old people would prefer to stay in their homes, but that depends on how able they are to do so safely (or if they can find carers who can assist them). I haven’t written much about my situation, but perhaps I should vent every now and then!!

  6. I think this is a problem in far too many societies. The days of multiple generations living together are over, and it’s easier to “warehouse” the elderly than it is to care for them. Families want old age homes to do it, and yet those facilities pay so little that they are never fully staffed. As people live longer than ever, this is something that needs to be addressed. Sadly, I don’t know of many countries that do a good job of it. People just don’t want to be bothered. (And I speak from personal experience, with my mom. I have two sisters, but 90% of her care comes from me. It astounds me the excuses people can make for not taking care of their parents……)

    • Bless you for taking care of your mom, Ann! I have one sister, but she’s clear across the country and really can’t be involved in the day-to-day needs. If old folks’ homes lived up to the ideals they were designed for, they’d by okay, I guess. But I don’t see that happening much. And you’re right … multiple generations living beneath one roof could be beneficial all around, though that feels like a way of life that’s gone the way of party lines on telephones!

  7. Aunt Vi was in one of those places with the smell for a few months. It was incredibly hard to get her moved to somewhere better, and even better wasn’t what we really wanted for her. Yet she refused to come live with us either. It’s all so hard.

    • I remember Aunt Vi. I expect she was so independent that she really didn’t want to have to depend on family to care for her. I wonder if it’s “easier” when the older person has dementia and really doesn’t care where she lives? No, maybe not. Then there are other problems. You’re right — it’s very hard.

    • Thank you, Robin, for confirming it. I suspect there are nice places, but they seem to be more for healthy, younger, active seniors — and so many aren’t like that. Medicine keeps them alive (but barely) for far too long because we all want to live to “a ripe old age.” When the mind or the body goes, though, the person is merely existing … and that’s deplorable. Shame on us for not doing better.

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