The nursing home… I must have told 100 people in the last few weeks that my mother lived in a nursing home. People at the hospital kept asking me where she lived and I answered their questions and filled out their forms obediently. However, I kept feeling the need to justify the reality. I believed that people might think her life wasn’t worth living if she was already in a nursing home so they might not try to save her. I kept clarifying that while she did live there, I took her out all the time and went to movies and lunch and shopping. I even found myself saying that her room was nice and big and beautifully decorated. I started to tell strangers that I visited her all the time and began to impulsively list all the things she was able to do a mere month ago. I suppose my over-sharing was due to both my fear of them dismissing her and my concern that I would be misunderstood. In general, I felt no guilt about the decision to go to the nursing home, but I continue to feel the need to explain – or rather, over-explain- to anyone who will stand still long enough to hear my dissertation.
I think I needed these strangers, who may have only be pretending to care about us for the moment we were in front of them, to know that the last few years had been wonderful. While I know my mom hated the idea of living in a nursing home and couldn’t stand most of the other residents because they were “old and lived in a nursing home,” she was always exactly where I needed her and always patiently and securely waiting for me to come visit. I could write for hours about the politics of nursing home care, our failed social service system and the realities of outliving your money, but I won’t.
I will just continue to answer questions honestly and vigilantly watch for that familiar look in the eye that feels a bit judge-y to me. I will continue to stand up for what I know to be true and try to protect our choices, even though I can no longer protect her.