Wednesday, April 6, 2011


When my father first arrived at the nursing home, I was overwhelmed by the dismantled state of its residents.  Life and limbs coiled. Minds, hearts, spirits, confused and broken.

Suffering is widespread.  Pain is prevalent.  Time, whether too short or too long, is against them.

Those determined to practice standing, or walking, are stupefied with medication to treat their symptoms of "agitation." With one aid per 7 residents, its too much of a liability to allow them to roam on their own.  They are easy to spot - strapped into chairs armed with motion alarms - slumped over, despondent, drooling.

I focus on my father and ignore their moaning, and pleading..."Help me, somebody please help me."  "Where's my MaMa?" "PLEASE take me to the bathroom!"

I arrive at the same time each day, 6: 20 pm.  I go straight to the dinning-room and retrieve my father.  Typically he's sleeping, draped in a soiled bib.  His aid tells me "he did good" by finishing his bland, pureed, food.

Today Dad is awake, alert and happy.
"Oh here she is," he tells his dinner companion.
"This is my daughter Shannon.  Shannon, say hello to Nick.  Nick and I went to college together. We played football together..."

In reality "Nick" is a petite, 98 year old woman, named Grace, with snow white hair and deep, blue eyes.

"Nice to meet you Nick," I say
"Likewise," says Grace

This is how Dad copes.  His mind "plays tricks on him" - blanketing the reality of his disintegration with memories from his good old days.

Grace, delighted by the attention, is a devoted listener and I am humbled by her.

I will follow Graces lead.


Beside my father, in his semi private room, is Mr. Kravitz - his mute roommate. He is paralyzed from the waist down. His legs limp, his hands clutch his bedrail. Mr. Kravitz never leaves the confines of his room.

Today, I realized that Mr. Kravits communicates with his eyes. His language coded in intense stares and blinks.

"Hello Mr. Kravitz"

Mr. Kravitz opens his eyes - wide

"How are you today Mr. Kravitz?"

Mr. Kravitz closes his eyes - hard 

"It's still pretty cold outside but the crocus's are beginning to bloom. The snow has melted and there is no more morning frost."

Mr. Kravitz opens his eyes - wide. 

"Spring is my favorite season"

Mr. Kravitz blinks - several times. 

"Awh, you too.  We have that in common"

Mr. Kravitz blinks - again and again.   

Confined to a wheelchair, Ann is in constant motion - stopping (on the nurses insistence) only to eat.  The outer ring of her wheels covered in sheepskin, her hands covered in calluses. Inflamed joints grip hard. With each push, she releases a deep, determined "OHHH" - as though it fuels her fire.

Lou is clearly a pervert.  From the confines of his wheelchair, he chases anything under 70 down the hallway.  He asks inappropriate questions.  "So, are you married? Are you happily married? Do you like your husband? Do you like sex?" Lou is 92. I have no patience for Lou.

Beatrice is 103. She wants to go home. She wants her MaMa and she will not rest until she finds her. "Are you my MaMa?" she asks.

Katherine won't be here long. She broke her hip and is slow to heal. Katherine has maintained her sense of humor. Her eyes are bright. She never complains. Katherine understands that if she doesn't follow orders, she will be treated for "agitation."

Because this is a pet friendly nursing home, with a magnificent blue Macaw as its mascot, I brought Mylo, a rescue dog, with me on one of my visits. Part of an unruly pack of terriers, he was picked up on a highway in Georgia - malnourished and suffering from obvious signs of abused. He's been part of our pack for a bit more than a year. He's grateful for everything we give him, every morsel of food, and especially, of our love.

An avid hunter, I wasn't certain how Mylo's visit would go.

I enter the building with caution, sign in at the front desk, and proceed to the mid point of the circular hallway, where Calipso the Macaws is perched in the confines of a colossal cage.

The hair on Mylo's back raised and his mouth opened.
Calipso extended his wings and his eyes grew RED.
My heart raced, and my stance braced.

From down the hallway I could hear Ann's "OHHH" only this time, it was heightened with delight.

Ann stopped and starred at the sight of these unlikely friends.
And then, she laughed.
I had no idea Ann could laugh.
"Thank you," said Ann.
I had no idea Ann could talk.

Ann loves dogs. Ann remembers her german shepherd, Prince. Prince walked her to school in the mornings and would be there when she got out. Prince was her best friend.

Everyday, I make a point of looking for Katherine. If she's not in the TV room she's typically with Calipso. When I found her yesterday, she had both hands in his cage.

What are you doing Katherine" I ask.
"I want to touch him," she explains.
"Aren't you afraid he's going to bite you?" I ask
 "Oh, he wouldn't dare" she assures me.

After 3 weeks of visiting, I am preparing to bring my father home and I wanted to explain our impending absence to Katherine.

"I'm taking him home on Thursday," I tell her.
"Really?" questions Katherine.
"Well, its time for him to come home.  He's done all the healing he's going to do here."
"I'm going to miss him," confesses Katherine.
"Thats very sweet Katherine, I'm sure he'll miss you too."
"He never talks to me"
"He's been very shy here.  He seldom talks to me either."
"I hope you have a big enough cage for him,"
"A cage - Katherine I won't put him in a cage"
"You'll let him fly around your house?" she asks.

Katherine was happy to hear that I would be bringing my father back home, and relieved to know that Calipso would be staying.

The people I've meet here have enriched my life in many ways. It has been an honor to get to know them. I also realize that my time spent with them - sitting beside them, listening, talking, following Graces lead - has benefited their emotional wellbeing.

I have been given the green light to visit my new friends on a regular basis. And I'm thinking about making a documentary about them (not that I have any idea how to go about doing that) - interviewing people 100 + years older. I find them fascinating. Imagine living in the 1920's?  Imagine what it was like to experience the great depression, to have immigrated here, to be entertained by radio, heat your home with coal, refrigerate your food with blocks of ice.

Today, I remember them, fondly....

"In Dad's Mind" photo by Jim Quinn


  1. I loved this. You write so well it made me quite emotional. Which is no good, honestly, I just put eyeliner on for crying out loud. :) I think your documentary would make me bawl. That'd be a no eyeliner WEEK.

    Hope your dad is doing well?

  2. He's doing so much better! Thank you for asking :) I'm so happy to have him home. He's working hard to get his strength back - walking, just a bit. But most important - he's happy. And when Dad's happy... well, life is that much sweeter!

  3. Having spent 2 years visiting my mother in a dementia unit in an assisted living facility in Pennsylvania, I am all too familiar with the characters and stories one encounters."18 people, waiting to die.", my Dad would say as we walked down the hall. While I couldn't disagree with the eventual outcome, there was warmth and humor to be found among the ashes of this dismal situation. I'm sure your visits meant a lot to the residents; I always felt that Gracie and I made a small difference. Good luck with your Dad- our old folks are amazingly resiliant!

  4. You're a rock star. Love this post. -Jay

  5. Great story, made me want to visit them too!

  6. Oh, I can't even comment on this. So many thoughts are surfacing. Will I place my mother and mother-in-law in a nursing home? I battle with my feelings.

  7. You made me cry and smile all at the same time. I am aslo fascinated by people who have liuved before TV. :)

    They have such amazing stories, and I am totally willing to listen.

    So glad Dad's coming home.

  8. this was beautiful and brought back some very painful memories. We just lost my father-in-law last November. He had been living in a Nursing Home for about 3 years...he had Altzheimer's and also assigned names to the wrong people....he was one that used to yell"Help Me, Help Me" is heartbreaking. I volunteered there for a few months...I read to the residents and arranged flowers. It is very hard to witness. Many of these people had prominent careers and were be reduced to nothing more than staring is so sad.
    My father-in-law's nursing home had a resident cat and dog(s)....most of the Altzheimer's patients were pretty oblivious to their being there but I am sure in some deep place, they drew comfort from them

  9. I got this sometime back...have had it buried under so many facets of the blogs.
    It could be helpful.
    Or not...who knows.
    I'm busting it out and spreading it around because it's what people need, on occasion.

    I think you'll be doing fine with your Dad.

  10. OMG, I have laughed, then cried, and then laughed again. Grace stole my heart! To your imagination, another thing we share. In fact I have my great grandmother's REAL icebox, wonder what it has seen? :)
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

  11. Great story Shannon! It did bring out a lot of different emotions as I read it and afterwards. I hope that your dad is doing well. I'm sure that he will enjoy eating real food again too.

  12. Sounds like Grace was aptly named. I'm so glad to hear that Dad is home. Hope he'll be facebooking soon. Thanks for sharing this.

  13. :))))) I am so happy that you read it and took the time to comment. THANK YOU!!! You are helping in so many ways. If I don't write it down, and post it, it just spins in my head. You validate my sadness and my happiness.

    Jack, Jules, Joan, Heidi, Bone, Joan, Jay, Cam, VA, Myrna, CatChat(Love the concept, practice it often), Julianna.... much love and appreciation! xoMonkey ME!

  14. Shannon, your posts about your dad and the people at the nursing home have been your absolute best writing. Including the photos is such a bonus, too. I think you'd make a wonderful documentary, and I also think you could/should write a book. You should really pitch it to someone!!

  15. WHO? HOW? HELP!!!!

    Thank you Becky. I get lost and overwhelmed by big projects. All I can do is small - I used to paint miniature primitive art - with a magnifying glass. but I can't paint the same thing large - not even a circle.

  16. Oh, Shannon, what you have captured in just this post reveals the heart and soul you could put into whatever project you choose. I loved reading your conversation with Mr. Kravitz. I loved this whole post!

  17. Wow, I think Grace is a beauty!

    I used to see some patients in a nursing home. I hope to never have to be in one myself.

  18. Shannon... This is some post, you have left me teary eyed... But to them still see the lighter side of things despite so much pain and despair is really heart warming...
    You write like a champ, have a nice day:)

  19. wow... as more to say.

    Please stop by my blog when you have the chance... I am sharing a little something with you ;)

  20. I came over from OJ's, wow! you tell their current stories with such respect and compassion. I'm sure your documentary would be fantastic.

  21. What a wonderful post! That (old age)- is a place where we are all heading!!! The conditions inside some of those places are just deplorable.

    I do like the idea of your Dad flying around the house, however!! LOLOL.

    You are sweet to think of those people the way that you do!!



  22. Dad flying around the house :))))) love it! Thank you everyone for reading. I'm just getting back from New Orleans and working on another post. And I owe many of you a read.

  23. Very deep and insightful. Thank you for sharing.

  24. Yes, talk to them, learn from them. Growing up born to older parents in a family blessed with long lived people, I had the opportunity to hear first hand what life was like for settlers, and in the first world war. When I lost my grandmother at the age of 102 I lost my last living link to the 19th century, and I will always feel that absence.


Thank you for encouraging my JOY of writing. By reading and commenting you are feeding my soul, stroking my heart, and in the end...making me a better writer.

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


Photo by Joan Harrison