Sunday, September 4, 2016

Getting to the Right Place

Have you ever found yourself in a place you never planned to be, but somehow you knew for certain you were in the right place?

Last month, through a series of schedule changes, I found myself giving blood at a nursing facility; not my usual donation point. It was no coincidence this residence appears to specialize in patients with dementia and Alzheimer's. We have been blessed -- and I do mean blessed -- to care for my mom for the past year. And seeing what life could be like for her, has made that acutely evident to me.

Don't get me wrong, please. Elder care is far from an easy or exact science. What works well for one family does not always succeed in another. Families face difficult decisions regarding loved ones and their care. What one facility provides may not be possible in another. Most of these businesses and their employees do their jobs, do them well, and even go above and beyond to make the lives of their clients -- patients as well as their families -- comfortable and enriched.

That being said, my grandmother had been in a nursing home. As young as I was at the time, I can still recall how depressing a place it was. When I got older, my first real job was in a retirement community; things had changed since Nana, but the medical facility on that campus was little more than the nursing home in which I recall her living -- and dying.

The place I found myself last month? Well, as I walked to the entrance, patients lined the portico. Some chatting with others; some, heads lolling and eyes vacant, simply sat and waited. The grounds were beautifully manicured, but there were tiny signs of neglect and deterioration on some of the buildings. I heard something whisper, "Death."

Inside, sunlight poured through monstrous windows and danced about the crystals of grandiose chandeliers. Patients who were able moved about freely. One conversed with a nurse who playfully teased her about knowing the job better than she did. Another, peering into the windows of the dayroom, questioned me about the activity occurring before her.

     "It's a blood drive," I answered. Her face showed alarm or confusion; I wasn't sure which.

     "People donate blood to help those who need it." More confusion than alarm; I was satisfied there were no vampiric images running through her imagination.

While I was donating, a patient wandered into the dayroom. I believe she thought she was reporting for work. She approached the Red Cross nurse with confidence, her purse slung sassily over her shoulder; she proudly stated her name as if he should be familiar. He gently removed her from the donation area, all the while his eyes searching, pleading for a facility nurse to appear. Comical initially; poignant now.

As I looked around the room, I noticed the trappings of a nursing home dayroom: a TV with ample floor space around for "wheelchair seating"; a couple of wilting plants meant to cheer, but the lack of proper care given them only recollected an end to their glory days; worn out board games stacked up on a worn out bookcase; elementary arts and crafts proudly displayed about the room -- the latest achievements of adults who had yesterday contributed so much. The d├ęcor appeared expensive and tasteful, but bargain pressed-wood furniture and acres of stamped wall-to-wall carpeting couldn't hide the truth. This was a grave dressed as a soiree.

It is not my intent to be negative or critical of establishments such as these; this is not some commentary on healthcare or elder care. Let's face it, we do the best with what we're given. But the gravity of aging and death -- mine as well as my mother's -- weighed on me more heavily than ever as I left the grounds that day. I was unspeakably grateful for the opportunity to care for her, yet suddenly aware of gossamer threads holding that opportunity within my grasp. The tragedy of what has become since one fateful day in a garden, and the glory and grace of one fateful day at a cross were at war within me as I drove home to Mom. I could be overcome with grief and hopelessness, or allow God's Holy Spirit to overcome those things with His peace and hope.

I have to admit, one surrender is easier than the other. And I know now, just as I did that day, God is showing me something. He determined my steps that day, He will lead me where I need to be once again.

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