They call it an Aged Care facility these days but in my mind it is still a nursing home. It is nicer than the homes my mother took us to when, as children, we were visiting elderly relatives. Two of the old ladies we saw were called Wink and Tess. Now I drag my own boy. I can’t remember being as unpleased as he is at this. I think I was in awe of the wizened. The smells, that so bother him, did not me. He races past the cloth bins of soiled laundry in the corridors, their colour coding signalling their degree of foulness. He instructs me, “Quick Mum, don’t breathe.”
I remember a woman who used to cry, while asking repeatedly, “Are you my mother? Are you my mother?” To us children this seemed particularly strange. Comical and sad at the same time. We would poke one another in the ribs as we passed her and say, “Are you her mother?”
We peeked into rooms as we followed my mother through the hallways. She strode ahead, her stockinged legs and half inch heeled shoes, marching matron like down the cloppity clop corridors, looking for Wink’s room. I could see the shape of thin people under blankets. People who no longer ate, who barely took a sip of fluid. Sinking into their beds. Like the mattress was some kind of quick sand determined to engulf them. Returning them to the earth.
Now at my mother’s home they hold a Christmas party where children from the catholic primary school next door come to sing carols. The OT’s are particularly enthusiastic; they trim a huge tree and a stuffed, but still thin, Santa sits on a couch at the front door like a resident waiting for a taxi. They even have an Elvis impersonator after everyone has pulled their bons bons. Vol au vents with prawns. Nurses wear Santa hats and have tinsel in their hair. Some hang christmas baubles from their ear lobes.
The corridors are carpeted, not squeaky vinyl like the Home Of Peace where we visited as children. Residents have their own rooms with bathrooms and flat screen TVs. The rooms are personalised with pictures and paintings from home. Some have brought with them a favourite armchair. My mother piles hers with New Ideas and Woman’s Days. She has her writing desk, although she no longer sits at it.
At my mother’s nursing home the demented are the same as when we were children. Asking strangers, “Have you came to take me home?” “Where am I?” “Are you my mother?”
She gets cards from well wishers, some who have not caught up on the news that her husband has passed away, even though it was six months ago. Happy Christmas June and Alex. Always June and Alex, for all those years. Now it is only June. Last Christmas he was in hospital, the first of a series of trips there. He had lost sense of time and it mattered not that it was Christmas to him. The surgeon said at least they will give you a glass of wine with your meal.
We have a Christmas ornament that makes me think of him – three candles that when lit make three angels spin and chime two bells. The ornament only ever came out on Christmas and was lit for a short time during lunch because the reality of the chiming bells was not as peaceful or beautiful as the thought of them. Still.