Monday, February 12, 2007

Gracious Retirement Living

Events happen that sometimes makes our orbit around life wobble a bit. We received a call three weeks ago that John’s 85 year-old father had a major stroke. We packed up as quickly as possible, and made the six hour drive to Southern California. The stroke paralyzed his left side, and a nasty cough from pneumonia complicated his condition. For the next two weeks John held vigil at his bedside, often 10 hours a day, talking to him, offering him slivers of ice for his parched throat, and involving himself in his care as much as possible. I am so proud and moved by his deep love for his father. Dad has since been moved to a rehabilitation facility, where over the next two to three months he will work on rewiring his brain and regain the mobility needed for an independent life.

We also came to assist Mom, who has the early stages of dementia. We stayed in their one-bedroom apartment in the retirement community, Valencia Commons, which they moved to early last year. We spread our mattresses on the floor of the living room, and it was cozy but comfortable accommodations. It was awkward at first to answer her repeated questions about where and how Dad was, but we took her to visit him each day, and she took comfort that we were there.

Mom and I actually became best girlfriends. Her dementia has brought out the sweetest aspects of her personality. She was so appreciative that we were there, and she told us that many times, often several times within just a few minutes time. While John was with Dad much of the time, I helped Mom get dressed in the morning, shuffled her back and forth from the hospital, went shopping for new clothes, and shared meals with her and her neighbors in the central dining room of the facility. She called me her angel, many times, and how can you not be fond of someone for those kind words?

Valencia Commons motto is “Gracious Retirement Living”, and it truly is if you have lots of time on your hands. The hallways are decked with large reproductions of pastoral art – still life paintings, young ladies with parasols sitting in meadows with flowers. We understand the art gets moved around every once in a while, so hopefully the residents don’t need them to navigate back to their rooms. The facility has lovely amenities – a library, an activities room, a chapel, a hairdresser, and common areas with comfortable, stuffed chairs. But the largest room is the dining room, and in here three square meals are served each day.

The meals are breakfast, dinner, and supper, and seating times are 8:00, 12:30, and 5:30, respectively and promptly. Most of the residents sit at the same table, in the same seat, for each meal. And expect to spend one and a half hours for each meal (that’s four and a half hours a day of mostly anticipation of food. There is a whole choreography with the serving – first come drinks, then the first course, followed by the main course, and dessert. The food is well-prepared and nicely presented, but generally generic and not the least bit spicy. Mexican food in any form never appeared on the menu during our stay. But for the elderly residents who no longer want or are able to cook, the meals are the highlight of the day, a time when they can socialize. John’s parents loved their time there, Dad likening it to being on a cruise ship, all the time.

So Mom and I spent quite a bit of time together in the dining room, and one can’t help but observe the interactions. Like any small town, there are all sorts of personalities. Most of the people were nice, and they loved to chat with us, asking with genuine concern about Dad’s condition. But it was whispered to us about the woman in the neighboring table, and how no one really liked her. One day we witnessed her in action. The sandwich of the day was smoked turkey on a croissant, and when served the woman was most unhappy. She insisted that she was given ham, not turkey – what was on her plate was too pink to be turkey. Back it went, and another one brought out, and that was still too pink. The manager got involved, and after what seemed like a very long time, another sandwich was paraded out. She lifted the lid, gazed down at it, and with a quick nod, and to the relief of the staff, acknowledged that, yes, this was turkey.

So life has changed a bit. We have been home now for a week. John’s two sisters visit their parents on the weekends, and we will return in a couple days for another visit. We know the recovery process will take some time, and for the foreseeable future we will be making this drive a couple times a month, and help Mom and Dad as best we can. But we can come back to our mountain home, ski out into the woods, and become restored by something as simple as tracks in fresh snow.

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Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear that John's dad had a stroke. It sounds like you both have your hands full. Tell John to "hang in there!" I'll see you tomorrow for lunch. We can chat more then :O) Lynn

Gil Estrada said...

Beautiful post Doris. I am sorry to hear the news. Please let John know our hearts are with him.


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