Some years ago, I watched an amazing video with my grandmother. It was a recording of her mother (my great - grandmother, baba) talking about her life. She passed on when I was three. The recording was completely in Ukrainian. Since I understand some Russian (they are similiar languages) I could sort of make out what she was saying. It was just amazing to listen to her speak. Then there was a point where my grandma chimed in "And this is where she is complaining about where she lives". Because my great grandmother lived in a nursing home and was not happy about it. It was not one of the nice assisted living type places either. For many reasons, my great grandmother was not living with her children (what she had expected).
This past weekend, we visited my husband's grandfather. He has not recovered well from his accident. He has been in a great deal of pain. He has reached a point where he's not able to care for himself - and his wife is not able to care for him either. So he's in the rehabilitation part of the assisted living arrangement. Honestly, I think he'll be there for a few weeks and be able to move back. That's our current hope.
This is not the "nice" part of assisted living facility. The assisted living section is great. Apartments with high ceilings, kitchens and modified bathrooms. Everything a person needs to be able to care for themselves as they get older.
The part he's in has two hospital beds to each room. A curtain separates the roommates. In front of each bed is a tv mounted to the wall. The rooms don't have much in terms of decoration. A nurse's cart sits in the hallway - not disguising the very real fact that everyone in this wing needs 24 hour care.
Last year, around this time, we went to dinner with my grandfather in law in the dining room. On our way, almost every person we passed (many in decorated walkers) stopped to smile at my children. Many fine compliments (they're adorable! Brillant! Twins?? How exciting!) were given to my husband and me - as well as my grandfather in law on his great grandchildren.
This visit, in the hospital wing, only one older person acknowledged us with a smile. Most stared blankly ahead. We passed people in the hallway, sitting in chairs. I can't be too hard on them - they've got to be fabulously angry. Here they are, after a lifetime of work, probably not in great health. Probably in a great deal of pain - dealing with waking up each morning. They might not have much to look forward to.
My grandfather in law was glad to see us. He perked up immediately. He must have had his hearing aid in, because he could actually hear me discuss the persimmon tree in our backyard that still has persimmons. He seemed excited to watch goose and noggin run all over a side visiting room. They discovered a cart to push around. Thankfully my mother in law stopped my son before he crashed the cart into a stained glass window hanging on the wall.
As families get older, there are a lot of hard choices. We certainly can't take care of my grandfather in law - much as we would love to. As I get older, there will be a lot of hard choices for me.