One Hour and a Half Visitors

Each Sunday I take the time to read the New York Times Blog “The New Old Age”. It never ceases to amaze me how many inspiring stories are there. I have read many comments by children of folks in nursing homes who feel tremendous guilt. They are all trying to pull something good out of a bad situation. It is very difficult to watch your elderly parent get to the end of their life. We need to know there is some positive meaning or that something good came from it—at least something better than seeing an old person drooling in a wheelchair.

But there is a different story to be told. It is the story of a resident and their one and a half hour visitors. For all those reading this I mean no disrespect to my visitors. It is just a fact that most visitors stay an hour and a half. I guess I should be grateful for those precious minutes … and I am. But in an otherwise busy life, most people can only spend a certain amount of time with their loved ones in nursing homes.

I empathize with their situation. I feel a pang of guilt myself when I see a visitor struggling to be comfortable in my nursing home room. Sometimes I think it has something to do with furniture. Maybe if I had a reclining chair, my visitors could feel better with their feet up. I know some do not feel comfortable lying on my bed. I have a nurse friend who would never do that. My sister on the other hand, feels fine about snuggling up on my bed and I certainly do not mind. She and my other friends can lie on the bed if they wish. But I do not want them to get so comfortable that they fall asleep.

I think furniture plays a part in that discomfort as well as the pictures our memory has photographed over the years. There is not much vitality in a nursing home. If there are things going on, nothing is very upbeat. Most people have little in common with what we do here until they are maybe 75. I think the baby boomers feel uncomfortable because when they look at me they see themselves some time in the future.

When you have been in a nursing home as long as I have, you see the coming and going of many visitors. I moved 20 miles away from my home so I never was overrun with company. It is very easy to get lost in the nursing home. So if you are a loner, it is right up your alley. I can spend time alone and be fine as long as I have something to do. But there are many times that I really want company and sometimes I would like them to stay all day.

I do have one friend who stays three or four hours when she visits. I usually start looking at the clock when she exceeds the one hour and a half hour mark. I know she has a two hour drive home and I start to fret about her safety. Then if she stays longer than planned, her husband calls her just to check in. I think that is her cue to get ready to leave.

Sometimes it is very hard to say goodbye to visitors. Down deep I wonder if I will ever see them again. That is not something that came at age 60; I have felt this way since I was a child. I think the most pertinent thing I ever heard was that if you pass people standing at a train stop, you need to realize that it will probably be the last time that you ever see them. To me that is a very poignant fact.

It would do us all well to see whether we visit our friends and family with a constant eye on the clock. Are we able to relax and not look like we are pacing while sitting? Do we arrange a way out of the visit? If we do, maybe a phone call would be better.

We have the technology today to visit with residents via computer. It is not the same as human connection or sharing a meal. Nor does it allow us to carefully watch and join in on an uproarious laugh. Someday, I and many other nursing home residents may be able to stop feeling guilty because we want visitors who brighten and enrich our lives.

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