“I want to warn you,” Ms. Gibson’s daughter, Kelli said, cocking her eyebrow. “Mom doesn’t want to be here.”
I remained calm, although I wanted to shake my head. I managed to keep my composure. “Sure, I understand,” I said, nodding.
Ms. Gibson had just arrived from the hospital, after having foot surgery due to a fracture. While Ms. Gibson was being accommodated in her room, I led Kelli to my office to gather protocolary admission information and complete pertaining paperwork.
I still wanted to tell Kelli she wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know. Most, if not all, of the new residents do not want to be in a nursing home, even if it’s for a short stay. But she quickly continued talking:
“She will be grumpy and will probably try convincing you all to let her go home.” Kelli’s eyes were wide open, and her hand gestures seemed to add assertiveness to her words. “She lives alone and I can’t be there every day.”
“Kelli, we will monitor your mother’s adjustment to the facility routine, encouraging her to complete her rehabilitation before she returns to her home.”
I empathized with Kelli. It’s not easy to tell our parents what to do, even if it’s for the best. Parents want to remain in control, and don’t seem to accept well the switch of roles in their aging years.
I checked on Ms. Gibson a few times that week. She often kept to herself, preferring to stay in her room—except when going to therapy.
On a Monday morning, I decided to visit with Ms. Gibson. As I walked in her room, I was surprised at the change in the room decor that obviously occurred during the weekend. Multiple plants—mainly flower plants—had been carefully and strategically arranged in the room, beautifully displayed on delicate wooden plant stands. The place had a unique touch, a welcoming feeling embraced me as I entered.
Ms. Gibson was sitting in a recliner, looking out the window. I spotted a beautiful view of the court yard under a sunny day. Ms. Gibson seemed relaxed.
She looked at me, and flashed a timid smile.
“Ms. Gibson, your room looks great.” I brushed my fingers along the plants in front of me. “I like your beautiful plants and flowers.” I bent down to smell red roses and purple orchids. Their scents and colors were pleasantly intoxicating, simply indulging.
I never saw a room in a nursing home with as many plants and flowers as Ms. Gibson’s room. There was no doubt someone had taken daily care of them.
“Thank you.” A gentle smile lit up Ms. Gibson’s face, as if the sunshine had suddenly reflected on her cheeks.
Ms. Gibson began telling me about each one of her plants, and how much she enjoyed gardening. She then referred to her home, a four-bedroom log home located in a rural area, built by her husband. Since his passing more than ten years ago, she had meticulously taken care of her home, and especially of her garden. It was a place of solace and fulfillment for her.
I understood why she wouldn’t want to be away from home. And I also understood what the plants and flowers in the room meant to her. This was her temporary home.
Ms. Gibson eventually became more acquainted with staff. She seemed to adjust well to the routine of therapy and care. My visits with her became more frequent than planned. I enjoyed listening to her life stories.
I mused sometimes about what home really means.
Home is where your heart is.
I have heard that quote many times. Ms. Gibson’s heart was there—for the time being. Rather than me trying to help the resident adjust to her environment, the opposite occurred. Ms. Gibson made me feel comfortable, and welcomed me to her place—her home away from home.
Ms. Gibson finally recovered, and was ready to return to her house. She was happy, but showed no rush in leaving. She took her time saying her goodbyes to other residents she had made friends with, and with the staff she had bonded with.
I returned to the the room days later, after Ms. Gibson had left. I felt the void. The room was not the same. I missed the plants and flowers, and the delightful conversations with my resident.
“Is this room available?” My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by the gentle voice of a petite elderly woman, standing by the door, holding a walker.
“This is Ms. Floyd and she wanted to tour the facility,” my co-worker Melba explained, standing behind the visitor.
“I came to check out the place,” the elderly woman said. “I will have surgery in a couple days and I want to come here for therapy until I get stable enough to return to my apartment.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I flashed a broad smile. “This room is available, just waiting for you.”
Thanks to Tony Sexton at Senior Advocacy for inspiring me to write this story, after reading his insightful post on what "Home" means for nursing home residents.
“I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.”
-- Maya Angelou.