"Didn't Dad Come Today"?
Vince Rome entered the nursing home and walked down the hallway past the nurse's station where two woman sat in their wheelchairs visiting. When he can to room eighty-two he knocked on the door. The grey haired woman who was sitting in her recliner watching television looked up at him
"How are you doing today, Mom?" he asked as he laid his coat and hat on the cardtable which stood near the door.
"Alright, I guess." She glanced into the hallway. "Didn't dad come today?'
Vince frowned. "Dad died fourteen months ago, Mom."
The woman looked down at the grey tile floor, her lips formed in a pout.
Joe and Clara Rome had lived on the farm for some fifty years before they retired and moved to town. Joe had gone out to the farm almost every day to help Vince until his health began to fail. He had a bout with protrate cancer along with other health problems.
Clara had osterporosis, along with geting very forgetful, the signs of Alzimers. Vince's sister, Jayne suggested they enter the nursing home, but the old couple would have no part of that. Soon it was discovered they weren't getting thier bills paid, they weren't eating properly, and they were no longer able to drive. Vince and Jayne arranged for a nurse to come to the house two to three day a week to help them bathe and to check on their meals and medicine. Thios worked for alonly a short time until one morning Clara refused to let them in the house. "They are too snoopy," she explained.
That having failed, Jayne made a doctor's apointment for them. Vince went to pick them up and drove them to the hospital where Jayne was waiting.
The doctor asked Joe and Clara asked them who the president, the vice president and the state governor, none of which they could answer and advised that they enter a nursing home. Joe argued venomently, Clara pouted. Vince and Jayne pointed out that they were no longer able to care for themselves.
Vince drove up to the Crestwood Nursing Home where Jayne's husband, Jeff was the administrator. When they arrived Jeff came out to greet them.
"we're not going in there," Joe said adamently. "We go in there, they won't let us leave."
Jeff patted Joe on the back. "Let's go inside and take a look around," he said. "If you don't like it you can always leave."
Once they were inside, Jayne introduced Clara to a couple of women she knew. They told Clara that is was a very nice place and how lucky they were to have a son-in-law who would take care of them, Clara pouted while Joe stated that he wasn't going to stay in a place where people rode around in buggies which is what he caled wheelchairs. He said they would leave and come back in a week or so, but everyone knew once they left, they would never agree to return.
While the nurses told them about the care they would recieve, Vince and Jayne went to the office to sign papers, pay the bil and the other things that needed to be done. when they had finished, they went back to the rom where Joe and Clara continued to protest. They were told it would be better if they left, that everything would be taken care of.
Vince and Jayne left the home in a daze. "That was the hardest thing I've ever done," Jayne said.
"i would rather have been home pitching manure or getting kicked by a cow," Vince said as he adjusted his glasses.
Jayne visited her parent's every other day. Vince with thirty miles to travel, visited once a week. Geneva, their younger sister who lived in Kansas city, came once a month or whenever she could.
Joe come to realize that he was better off there.Their house had too many steps to manuver. He no longer had a big yard to mow, and in the home he could play bingo or volleyball, recieve daily therapy alonmg with numerous other activities, and the food was good. Clara, on the other hand, fused that her kids were spending too much money for their care, and that they were stealing their money along with every other kind of evil she could think of. Joe agreed with Vince and Jayne that their house, funiture car and pickup be sold at auction. After the sale, Clara became convinced that they were por because they no longer had these things.
Joe lost the use of his legs and was confined to a wheelchair. He needed oxygen, and he had several bouts with pneumonia.
Clara became biligerqant with Joe thinking that he could do something to get them out of the nursing home. She started hearing voices which she claimed were coming out of the ceiling. Finaly she was taken to a mental facility where she was reevaluated, and put on a different medicine. She was gone for two weeks, and when she reurned she could be reasoned with.
Shortly after that, Joe tok sick and died of congestive heart failure. At the funeral, clara was in a fog. "I don't see papa anywhere," she kept saying.
After the funeral, Jayne and Geneva took thier mother back to the home. When Clara entered her room she stopped and looked around. "Where is Dad?" she asked.
"Dad died, Mom," Geneva explained. "We just came from his funeral."
Clara came to believe that Joe was helping Vince on the farm. Her doctor suggested they keep telling her he died, and maybe, he believed, it would eventully register with her.
In her room was a collection of stuffed animals. There was a welcome sign on the door, a different one with each season and holiday. There were paintings of the house on the farm along with the church and the school she had attended in the country. There were photographs of the family, a television and a VCr, a cardtable which contained some crossword puzles and and artist sketchbok and drawing pencils. Clara, like her mother, was an artist, and from time to time she would draw something for the nurses. Betty Boop was her favorite subject, but she didn't draw much anymore because her attention span wasn't long enough. Her hearing was excellent, and when she heard women talking in the hallway she would think it was her sisters. Her mother, two of her sister along with three brothers also had been diagnosed with Alzimers and had since died.
Vince and Jayne always tried to attend the special days at the home. There were birthday parties where whoever was having a birthday during the month was honored with songs and a cake. On Mardi-Gras a king and queen were crowned. Joe and clara were so honored a few months after their arrival. Members of the local auzillary would come in costume and sing and dance, and then everyone would be served cookies and puch along with a King cake that was shaped like an oblong doughnut. On Halloween, everyone would be in costume, and school children would come in costume and entertain. At Christmas time, the residents would recieve a gift, and there would be some kind of entertainment alonmg with a visit from Santa who would pass out candy canes to everyone.
In the mornings, the residents gathered in the sun room for story time, then they would play volleybal where they were required to kep four balloons in the air at the same time. Sometimes it would hapen that all the balloons would burst, and the game would be over. They would then do a series of easy exercises. Once or twice a month volunteers would come and paly the piano or the organ or both. There was an Aviary, a lighted cabinet some seven feet tall, six feet wide and two feet deep which contained finchs, canaries, hummingbirds, doves, nests, feeders and perches. Outside on the patio, there was a fountain, shrubs and a wild bird feeder. Clara, along with many of the residents, enjoyed watching the birds.
The hallways were lined with Victorian paintings. There were also photographs of the events like Halloween and christmas and the local Cancer Relay for Life where the nurses were dressed as angles. they had won several awards for their efforts, and if the residents got tired during their walks, they could sit down on one of the benchs and enjoy the photographs.
Jeff turned sixty-five and decided to retire. vince and Jayne joined Clara at the retirement party. The new administrator was a middle aged woman who had been working at the hospital. There were spechs folowed by refreshments and entertainment.
"How are we going to get along with Jeff?" Clara sobbed. "Why is he leaving you?"
Jayne put her arm across her mother's shoulders and smiledc. "Mom, Jeff isn't leaving me," she said. "He won't be here anymore. He wants more time to fish, hunt and travel."
The old woman glanced down at the flor as she wiped away her tears with a kleenex.
"Everything is going to stay the same," Vince said. "You will stil be getting the best of care."
"Everything would be better if dad and I were at home," she mutered.
Sometimes at night, Clara could be seen pushing her walker down the hallways. Try as they might, the nurses were unable to convince her to return to her room. Some nights she would be loking for Joe, and on other nights she would be loking for her sisters or her parents. Finally, after not finding whoever it might be she was looking for, she would return to her rom and go to bed.
Vince tried to arange his visits when Clara was busy with bingo, story hour or a party. When she was busy, and not idle in her room, she was less likely to ask where Joe or her sisters were. He thought that since he had traveled thirty miles his visits should last at least an hour or so and not the ten or fiften minutes Jayne, who lived a few blocks away spent with her.
On one of those occasions, two weeks after Christmas and two years since Joe's passing, Vince went into the dining rom where the residents were playing bingo, selected a card and sat down next to his mother.
A half hour later, Geneva and her husband, Bil arrived. Geneva had been down with the flu over Christmas, and the plan was to go to Jayne's house for gift exchange and dinner. Geneva tok some packages to Clara's room, then returned to help her mother with the card.
When the bingo hour was over, they took Clara back to her rom where Geneva presented her with some gifts. Clara unwrapped a blue sweat suit and a brown poncho coat. When she had everything opened, she looked up, adjusted her glasses and said, "This isn't my birthday."
"We are still celebrating Christmas," Vince explained.
"The old woman licked her lips. "What did you get for dad?"
"Nothing," Geneva reploed, "he is with the angles."
Tears welled up in Clara's eyes. "That's what everybody tells me." She ran her hand though her white hair. "We need to visit the folks today."
Vince sighed heavily. "They passed away thirty years ago, Mom."
The old woman gave Vince and Geneva a scathing look.
Geneva knelt down in front of her mother and patted her on the knee. Mom," she said, "you are eighty-eight years old. If your parent's were alive they would be a hundred and twenty years old, and that's old."
Tears streamed down Clara's cheeks. "Everybody died at the same time," she sobbed.
"Your family passed over a period of time," Geneva said. "People get sick and die. That's what people do.
"I guess," the old woman replied, forcing a smile.
As the weeks passed, Clara was no lonmger able to get around with her walker and was confined to a wheelchair. Sometimes she would think Vince was her brother and that Jayne and Geneva were her sisters. Jayne's two daughters, the eldest who worked at the home and would stop in and visit her, he knew, but she had no idea who the youngest daughter was, and neither did she know Geneva's thre sons. Most of the time she spent sleping in her room. she no longer took part in any activities.
One morning in late winter, some six years after Joe's passing, Jayne called to tell Vince that their mother was ill and posibly dying. When Vince went to see her, she lay in bed, a ghostly palor upon her face.
Sensing someones presence, Clara open her eyes and extended a feeble hand. Vince took it and squeezed it tenderly.
"How are you doing,Mom?
"I don't feel so good," she replied in a voice that was barely above a whisper. "Did dad come with you today?" She licked her cracked lips. "I haven't seen him in days. Is he alright?"
"Dad is just fine," Vince said as tears welled up in his eyes. "You will be seing him soon,"
"Good." Clara sighed heavily, then closed her eyes and fell asleep.