My mother's best friend was in the nursing home with her. They met when they were both in assisted living and found that they enjoyed many of the same things. For three years, they were together, spending many long hours talking and laughing together. My mother went on to live in two other homes before ending up in the nursing home. Her friend went straight from the assisted living facility to the nursing home. They were delighted to be together again. I was never happy about my mother being in a "home," but she wanted to be in the town in which she grew up.
"I was born here," she said, "and I intend to die here."
Because all of us children lived far away from her, we became the occasional visitors, sending packages and cards as often as we could.
Mom's friend had essential tremors, somewhat like Parkinson's disease, and had trouble feeding herself, brushing her hair or putting on makeup. My mother was a woman who only allowed herself to be seen without makeup when she was gravely ill. Together they were like young girls, as my mother would go to her friend's room every day, makeup bag in hand, to primp and fuss over the lipstick before breakfast. A dreary, lonely existence was made much more tolerable for each of them with the presence of the other. I used to send my mother the Harry and David fruit-of-the-month club every year. She mentioned how much her friend loved sharing the fruit with her.
My mother passed on in March, 2006, but her friend still lives in the nursing home. She is far away from me, but I still send the fruit to her. It is a simple thing for me, but it is a huge gift to her each month. She tells me that the fruit is a bright spot in her month and that each selection is incredibly tasty. I've sent her other gifts, such as a quilt with matching pillow shams and bedskirt to dress up her hospital bed. The pattern is similar to the one my mother had on her bed, blue on a white background with a star design.
These gestures had their origins in my childhood, when my mother would take me along with her to visit people at our local nursing home. We would carry baskets of citrus fruit and bananas. We would sit and visit and read to the residents. Some of them barely knew we were there. Others would light up when we arrived. It never occurred to me that they had no family who visited regularly. It wasn't until my own mother was a nursing home resident that I learned how rough life in the home could be.
My mother's friend, Lois, returns the favor. I have two beautiful figurines on my mantle. She sent one to me for my college graduation. I graduated at age 44, and my mother did not live to know it. Lois filled in. Last week I received the other figurine. She was worried about me, because she could not reach me by phone. I had changed my phone number to an unlisted number, and when we talked last, there was no one to write down the number for her. I called her tonight and made sure to have one of the aides write it down for her. We had a nice talk, and she told me about some 2.5 lb silverware they ordered for her so that she can continue to feed herself. I suppose the additional weight makes it easier for her to keep the fork steady. She also has a new motorized wheelchair, which she's had to use since a fall she took earlier this year.
"I've had several wrecks in it," she said. "I warn people in the hallway, 'Look out! You don't know what's comin'!'"
I know that somewhere out there in the universe my mother is happy that I'm keeping in touch with her friend, continuing the fruit, and continuing the kindness. To me it doesn't seem like much, but I can tell that to Lois, it means something. Maybe it makes her a little less lonely.
Peace and goodnight - D