Resident Essentials

These two were a whirlwind with a squeamish streak, buoyed by a bedrock of black-humor. To the outside ear they likely seemed callous – maybe even disrespectful and mean.  To their inside hearts it was a balm – this ability to turn the awful hurt into a caricature of perspective. Eleven years of institutional living bagged in less than ninety minutes.

The moment they crossed the invisible crime scene tape, yellow and slimed with debris, they could feel it.  The room was clinging.  It hadn’t been touched (like evidence).  There were towels on the floor, the bed askew, the TV turned over on its face.  Fine – the logistics of a stretcher in a small space made the corners hard to maneuver, but no one thought to right it? To restore a semblance of “home” that less than 36 hours before had been the pinnacle of care, the grace and dignity of senior living?

On the heels of her passing, “home” was a heavy-aired room, looking exactly like every other room in this Hilton of long term care (and dying).  It’s different in a hospital – some people are being born, some saved, a life turned around.  Here everyone is dying – different pace, different reason – but always the same outcome.   The hot, muggy room tells us so.  Opening the window helps a bit, but cannot remove the residue of resignation to this end result.

In the swarm of the last few days, it’s hard to remember who said it – maybe a cousin.  They know someone who runs “Death Cafes” (hand to G*d, as they say, that’s what it’s called).  People come together, I guess, at Starbucks or Peets, to talk about death.   Like the act of dying.  Like when the last gasp is heard.

This seems like something our dynamic duo would not enjoy.  The seriousness of such a subject would be discomforting. Likely not the place where saying “yuck” while holding the departed’s old, crappy shirt would be considered good process, even if it is still crusted with some kind of food-made-mush to accommodate a compromised swallow.  The cleverly designed, yet blatantly sad, “Resident Essentials” clothing line that looks like your average polyester dress with a peter pan collar, but has all the bells-and-whistle-openings-and-access of a hospital johnny – who do you give this to? You might say, “the girl next door,” but donating back is fiercely forbidden for fear of someone saying “Why is she wearing my mother’s….” I guess it happens, not that I personally would have noticed (or minded).  At this point, is ownership relevant?  The team largely leaves our two cleaners be as they rummage and reject much of the remnants:  stuffed animals and costume jewelry purchased downstairs in the “little store” – a treat amidst a monotony of days.

The parade of aides came in one by one that last night. They said good bye or prayed over the foot of the bed.  They told stories.  The irony of their sweet nostalgia for her descent (dissent?) rang awkwardly in its truth.   Eight bags of garbage to be removed when facilities does the deep clean and repaint, turning the room for the next person.  Some family, somewhere, is so relieved today because finally, finally, after so much work and worry and waiting they have found a place where their person will be safe, get good care, and have as rich a life as possible when dementia has taken the rest.

©Gabriella Strecker, 2017

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