Thanksgiving morning I called my sister-in-law to wish her a Happy Thanksgiving. Linda (not her real name) has been living in a nursing home for about a month now. She is temporarily wheelchair-abled as the physical therapy team works with her daily to help her regain more independent skills.
Three years or so after my brother’s death in 2008, Linda was invited to live with her daughter and son-in-law. They remodeled their home to create what is called in San Francisco, at least, an in-law apartment. She made the decision recently to leave that cozy, comfortable, welcoming in-law apartment following an episode about which she later told me, “If I had been there alone, I could have died. Thank God my daughter was there.”
Linda seems very content; she misses her home, her own nest, but has told me more than once she is convinced that the decision she made was the right one. She is happy to know that should any issue arise, help is at hand. In her own words, “If my daughter and son-in-law had not been home when that last emergency happened, I would have died, and I would have died alone.”
My call to Linda Thursday morning went to voice mail where I left my greetings. Almost immediately, Linda called me back saying that she was visiting with a woman who lives across the hall and she could not get back to her room and her cell phone in time. My telephone visits with Linda can easily go for twenty minutes or more, and I was in no rush yesterday morning. However, after five minutes, Linda apologized for having to cut the conversation short, but, she said, her neighbor across the hall was waiting for her to return.
I absolutely loved that response! Obviously, Linda has relationships in that nursing home that are important to her! Carter Williams, noted geriatric social worker and aging services advocates, reminds us that ‘relationships are at the heart of life’.
I don’t know much at all about the nursing home where Linda lives. But I do know that whatever the structure, however institutional, task-directed or person-directed it is, Linda has developed relationships in that nursing home that mean something to her! She cut my Thanksgiving call short to honor and enjoy that relationship. I can’t think of anything that would make this day of gratitude more relevant or delightful to me. I wish that same gift of relationship for every person living in a nursing home.