SENTIMENT LOST: Sympathy, Care and Kindness

OPINION:

Unknowing and uncaring family members ignore those closest to the aging at the end.

I have spent over a year sharing a table, eating three meals a day, celebrating holidays, birthdays; discussing politics, opinions, innermost feelings, ups, and downs with people who, until recently, were total strangers.  Over time, a bond is formed.  It’s the last friendship.

When a resident first arrives at a nursing home,  fear and loneliness set in. Residents reach out to those they become familiar with; those they eat with and those they connect with in activities. It is a bond cemented by the commonality of a depressing, unspoken reality.  We are all waiting to die.  That’s the reality. We are reminded of it each time someone passes.  Another empty room, another empty space at a meal table.

When a resident dies the family is drawn in to handle final affairs, nursing home relationships are overlooked. I have shared the good, the bad, the pain and suffering of my declining years with those that I have become familiar. They too have shared their history of family dysfunction and disease with mutual confidentiality. Intimate details and feelings not even shared with family.  Perhaps the family is fearful that I know too much.

I have never been given the opportunity to pay my respects; unable to express sympathy, sorrow, or sense of loss with a family I had grown to know only briefly. The deceased is whisked away.  Removed from meaningful relationships by a family that treated my friend as if he had become a burden in later life—disposing of what remains as if the dead had no friends in the nursing home. No kinships. Nothing!

I’ve experienced it twice.  Once with Clarence, who shared with me his family history in Virginia and West Virginia.  Again with Tom.  His life story spanned both Virgina and Florida.  I was fortunate to see them both just days before they died.  I don’t know if they were aware of my presence.  It was the last goodbye.

I was ignored by both families.

Fleeting, fragile, short-term friendship. Another empty chair at the table.

Such is life—and death—in a nursing home.

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