When I stopped in Jackson (Mississippi) to visit with my mother at the nursing home today, the residents were already sitting at their tables in the dining room, although it was only 11 a.m. The folks in the front half of the room were all watching a local church’s worship service on the big screen television on one wall. But the people (including my mom) in the back half of the room were just sitting around their tables, staring at the white tablecloths or each other, waiting for their lunch. As I looked around the room, it became evident that the residents were seated according to their ability to interact with the world around them. Only the people in the front room were able to follow the television show. (If you missed my post about Mom and television, read “The People in the Box.”)
Mother’s table was a microcosm of the room at large. Starting at 3 o’clock and working clockwise around her table, were these four lovely ladies:
“Helen” smiled as I approached the table and said, “Look, Effie, someone’s here to see you!”
I hugged Mom, and watched her smile light up as she said, “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to visit, Mom. I’m on my way to Fairhope, Alabama, so thought I’d drop by to see you.”
“I’m so glad. It’s been ages since I saw you.”
“Well, it was just a couple of weeks ago, Mom. Remember when I cut your hair?”
“It needs cutting again.”
If you missed that post, check out “Cutting Effie’s Hair.”
It really just needed washing. They say they wash it twice a week, but I’m not sure.
Continuing around the table we come to “Jane.” Mom doesn’t know her name, and neither does “Helen,” but I introduced myself.
“Can you help me?” Jane started pulling off the terry cloth bib the aides had just put on each of the residents at Mom’s table and was trying to push her wheelchair away from the table. “I need to go home.”
“But, it’s almost lunch time,” I said, helping her with her bib.
“I’m not hungry.”
“I’m not hungry, either,” Helen piped in.
“Me, either,” said Mom.
The fourth lady was asleep, and didn’t wake up until lunch was served.
“Jane” took her bib off again and kept tugging at something in her lap. “I can’t find my panties.”
(*Any likeness to songs by Tiffany Foxx or Snoop Dog is purely coincidental.)
Mom just stared at her and Helen winked at me. I’m sure she’s in diapers, like many in that half of the room.
“Um, lunch will be here soon,” was all I could offer, as I helped put her bib back on.
Helen and I exchanged knowing looks and talked about our families. She’s from Shreveport, Louisiana, but her family moved to Jackson years ago. I reminded Mom that some of our folks used to live in Shreveport, but neither of us could remember their names. We talked about haircuts and nursing homes and wheelchairs and Alzheimers (yes) and finally Helen said, “We’re all just doing the best we can.” And then she smiled this beautiful, peaceful smile.
I looked at Mom, who mirrored Helen’s smile.
On the drive down to Jackson I had wept quite a bit… just sad from dealing with some of my own difficulties. But after I left Helen and Mom and “Jane” and “?” at the nursing home in Jackson, I felt my emotions lift a bit on the rest of my drive down to Fairhope. I listened to Neil Diamond singing “Pretty Amazing Grace” and then Ronnie Dunn singing “We All Bleed Red,” and I settled into a place that felt a bit more content in my soul.
As I drove across the bridge over the Mobile Bay and turned down 98 to Fairhope, I remembered childhood summers at Daphne, Alabama, (right next to Fairhope, also on the Mobile Bay) and searched for happy memories to outweigh the sad ones. At the end of the day Helen’s words were what kept me afloat: “We’ll all just doing the best we can.”