This week at work I had the opportunity to visit several long term care homes. Two of them were "older" homes and one was pretty bright and shiny new. All three of them were filled with precious souls - sleeping, staring, wandering, thinking and waiting. They are at the end of their journey, they are winding down to the finish line.
This is a difficult topic for me. We live in a society with the glut of them being elderly. We do not have the resources in place or the finances to meet the needs of this group. We live longer.
It would be nice if there was a comfortable affordable place where everyone still felt needed and necessary, no matter what age.
Long term care nursing homes can be a place that is warm and comfortable, still provide a feeling of being a part society and have the structure in place to meet the physical care necessary for those winding down.
They can also be places where we feel, forgotton and unneccessary, where we are just waiting. They can be very lonely.
We could look after all our family members at our own homes - keep them part of the family. But this is not always possible. Many of us need to work and there is no one at home to care for those who need to be monitored on a full time basis. In fact the burden of care can wipe out a whole family, especially if dementia is involved. Most of us don't have the finances available to make this a reality. Some of the elderly really have no one left - they are on their own, living in drafty old homes or lonely apartments.
The older nursing homes I visited were cramped. Filled with people and paraphenalia. Some rooms having 4 beds in them - little old people all sharing a tiny space. The newer home was roomy and bright - at the most only two beds in a room. They even came complete with little "porch" areas built out into the hallway where one could sit and watch the goings on of their world. But the warmth and sense of belonging was prevalent in all of them. I met "Tootsie" a little dog in one of the older homes that trotted around, visiting everyone. I met Oscar a dashing young man in his younger days, still very bright. And I met a lovely old lady who didn't say much, just followed us around, clutching her doll tightly. She was looking after her baby and had her nails painted to match her dress. Some of these people had jobs that were very important to them; folding up food bibs, helping to sorting laundry, delivering mail to residents. Something, anything to feel useful.
The elderly, those winding down, are such a vital and necessary part of our society. One we need to look after and honour. I know this is what God would want us to do. The question is....how.