“Caged birds accept each other, but flight is what they long for.”
It’s just a fact of life that people die. But when you live in a “retirement community,” people die more frequently. They are there in the first place, because they are old and infirm, their once larger-than-life worlds growing smaller and smaller. Apartment, Dining room. Back to the apartment.
Let’s face it, retirement homes are institutions. There are levels of freedom. Independent Living beats Assisted Living beats the Nursing Home, which beats the alternative – or does it?
I took DooDaddy to the funeral of his friend Ron, who died recently of pneumonia and complications associated with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), “an uncommon brain disorder that affects movement, control of walking (gait) and balance, speech, swallowing, vision, mood and behavior, and thinking. The disease results from damage to nerve cells in the brain,” according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. I lifted that straight from the NINDS fact sheet AND added quotes, so don’t get all hysterical about plagiarism (political allusion here, in case you missed it).
Karen, Ron’s wife and also the Shannondale nurse who “pronounced” Gmamma, gave a loving and humorous tribute at her husband’s memorial service. She said it was hard for Ron (aka “Honey Bun”) to smile because of his condition, but one morning she found him grinning from ear to ear. Karen (aka KG) said Ron had become a bit confused, watching his favorite TV channels, Fox News and ESPN2.
It seems Ron had just been on a private jet piloted by Donald Trump, who had taken him to a friend’s house to eat. As Ron’s smile faded, Karen asked Ron what was wrong.
“He never came back for me, ” Ron explained sadly.
Shame on The Donald.
The next day, Karen found Ron again with his face lit up in a rapturous smile. When she asked what had happened, Ron told her the big news.
“I just won the British Open!”
He was gone days later.
A friend whose parents also ended their journey at Shannondale recalls seeing a resident in a wheelchair sprinting (so to speak) across four lanes of traffic on Weisgarber as he tried to get to the liquor store. My friend found herself silently cheering him on, even as she watched the orderlies chase and overtake him.
It’s like pulling for Chief Bromden when he takes the control panel, hurls it through the window and makes his escape from the loony bin in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Or rooting for the inmates as they gleefully run through a hole in the prison fence to jump in the lake on “Orange Is The New Black.”
Doodaddy’s friend Mac was banished to Assisted Living and now wears an ankle bracelet, because he kept leaving The Home to frequent the fast-food joints across the aforementioned four-lane road. He’s an inmate now. Maybe he always was. You give up your freedom in exchange for security when you move to a facility. That’s why Gmamma never wanted to go. She was like Chief Bromden, silent but smart. Taking it all in and waiting for her chance to fly the coop. And she did. So did Ron.
DooDaddy’s still there. He’s a rule follower rather than a rebel. He serves on the Resident’s Council and plays bingo. He looks forward to breakfast every morning. Crispy bacon. Eggs done just so. There’s no Nurse Ratched, just kind, gentle Karen. My father’s world is smaller, but his heart knows no bounds. Doodaddy may be institutionalized, but his soul is free.