After living here for two years I frequently made the comment, "Nobody dies here." I remember an aide looking at me strangely and saying, "What are you talking about?" Then I explained that I had never faced a death directly. Residents died but I had not witnessed one nor had I seen a corpse being removed from the nursing home.
We seldom get to know all the residents well. But occasionally we do meet a resident who takes a part of our heart. Then we meet their family and they become our friends. But if we think about it we know there are only two things that usually happen to residents: Either they get better and move out, or they die. I have watched the process many times.
A resident's death reminds us that death can occur any time. I remember being surprised when a resident with Alzheimer's passed away in his geri-chair on his way back from breakfast. I heard of his death a few minutes after they pushed him past me in the hallway. The man never spoke for he was way beyond speaking. Many commented that he had beautiful hair and he truly did. It was the first thing you would notice. He was a tall man and young looking. It was devastating to see what the disease had done to him.
There was another man similarly afflicted who also used a geri-chair. His son, who appeared to be a clergy person, visited frequently and stood at the nurses' station joking about death with the nurses. I remember listening to this aghast. But then I realized that we all have our coping mechanisms. I cannot imagine what it would be like to visit your father knowing that he had no idea who you are or at least had no way to outwardly show you. It must be a devastating experience. Death might be welcomed in such a situation.
I also wondered why there was no memorial service or life celebration after a resident passed way. The alert and oriented residents wanted the obituaries read to them every morning. Some even went to funeral home calling hours. For the rest of us, though, there was no memorial service. It was clear many residents were loved by the staff. But there were other residents who seemed outwardly to hate the world and the aides who stepped into their own. Some of them screamed and lashed out at nurses and aides. I silently wondered how those aides and nurses got up the courage to go near them again. It would be difficult to care for someone so outwardly hostile. Memorializing these difficult souls would have been a challenge. So for the greater good it was probably better to have no service for the many in order not to slight the few.
I wrote the following piece after a resident's death.