May 09, 2012

Bedtime stories

There’s always background noise in a nursing home, even at night. The medicine nurse rolls her cart along the linoleum. An IV machine makes a gentle beeping noise. Some of the residents yell out in their sleep, or wake up to ask for help. Two aides chat as they walk down the hall with their arms full of fresh laundry. My mother-in-law’s roommate plays classical music on a little CD player: the lilting notes of a symphony come through the cream-colored curtain.

The sounds are familiar to me. I spent many evenings in this same nursing home twelve years ago, during the months before Aunt Seashell died. It’s the nursing home closest to my house, and we moved my mother-in-law there this week.

Time stands still in a nursing home. The routines here haven’t changed, and I fall back into them quickly. At 8:30 pm, an aide comes to bathe my mother-in-law and dress her for bed. I move to the opposite side of the bed so that I can help. Wash, roll, wash, roll. I remember the rhythm, the movements. 

My mother-in-law is having trouble speaking tonight, so I do most of the talking. I give her updates on family members and tell her any trivial incident I can manage to make funny. Today is her daughter’s 25th wedding anniversary, so I play the game of trying to see which of us can remember more details about the wedding. Neither of us can remember the name of the restaurant where the reception was held so I send my sister-in-law a text message. She comes up with the name immediately.

“That doesn’t mean she has a better memory than either of us,” I say defensively. “I mean, it was HER wedding. OF COURSE she knew it.”

I know many people don’t like nursing homes, but I feel at home. These beige walls hold stories. When my Aunt Seashell was here, she told me story after story about her childhood, summer days spent on the Jersey shore. Earlier tonight, my mother-in-law’s roommate told me she used to play oboe with the Snowstorm University Symphony. The young aide with the curly hair told me how she rode her bike into a brick wall when she was a kid and shattered her kneecap.

In a place where the bodies are slowing down, falling apart, it seems that stories are what is left. I tell my mother-in-law stories about my own kids. She never gets tired of hearing about them, and I don’t have to hold back at all. She would never accuse me of bragging about her amazing grandchildren. I talk quietly until she drifts off to sleep, then I let go of her hand and set it down on the white cotton blanket.

9 comments:

Rana said...

*hug*

Lilian said...

oh Jo(e), again I feel emotional reading your post. And I worry, worry about my parents so far away in Brazil. What am I going to do? sigh... I don't want to think about it, but I know I should. and cherish while they're still healthy.

Kathryn said...

I'm glad your mother-in-law has you to visit her.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

This made me cry. Both of my parents exited through nursing homes and I have a lot of memories, good and bad, associated with them.

kathy a. said...

it is so good you were able to move her closer, and that you can visit often. the nursing home routine is so much better than the hospital routine.

love the storytelling! my grandmother had dementia, but she could remember all kinds of details from things that happened in her youth, and i supplied the recent stories.

liz said...

Sending love

Val said...

susan said...

sending much love your way--and hoping that we all have people to tell us loving stories in our later years.

BrightenedBoy said...

Maybe nursing homes wouldn't be so bad if more daughters and daughters-in-law took the time to come and tell bedtime stories.