by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
February 25, 2002
SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME
SAN DIEGO -- We were sitting in the Pancake House talking about the perfect dreadfulness of her life when she went still as a bird dog on point. Her eyes were fixed on a far spot across the room.
"When you can," she said "turn and look at the old woman at the table by the window." I turned slowly to look over my right shoulder and spotted what looked like a black and white checkered lampshade on a very petite and extremely ancient woman's head.
After exchanging bemused glances and a great deal of serious consultation we decided the right word for it would be "hilarious." We agreed that if the little lady with the lampshade were still there on our way out we would stop and ask her about it.
We carried on with our dour conversation. She asked me, suddenly passionate, in the middle of one of her sentences, "Tell me I am not going to die there."
She spoke of the assisted living where she and her husband had been living for the past year. A dark and dreary place their two rooms, down a long dark hall, like a mouldy ship's quarters buried deep in the hull of a mammoth frigate on the way to somewhere few people want to go.
Not just bad Feng Shui but none whatsoever! No real living things growing or much light. And this for over $3,000 a month! People suffering from spiritual scurvy, isolated together, stuck in little cubicles, stacked on top of each other. My friend's assessment was correct. It was "ghastly" indeed.
It is often said, "form follows function." but I say the opposite holds true just as often; function follows form. The "form," (architecture and layout) of most of these retirement communities (projects) for the aging are, more often than not, an insult to the spirit.
So here we were, escaping out to breathe fresh air and eat fresh fruit and find things to laugh at. I assured her she was not going to have to die there. Not if I could help it. I wasn't sure that I could but just saying it brought a priceless smile to her face.
Her children, especially her sons did not want to hear "her doom and gloom." One of them had told her that recently, and it had nearly crushed her as well as reinforced her self-loathing at not being the strong, capable person she'd always been. She found her physical and emotional frailty very difficult to accept.
Apparently, she was not the only one. But my very strong opinion is that children owe their parents more than that.
They were there for us when we were snotty nosed, in diapers. They were there for us when we were emotionally frail; scared and vulnerable. They were up at night with us when we were fevered and miserable. They gave up years of their lives for us. The least we can do is give a little understanding as they face the one of the most bitter and precarious trials life has to offer.
So often it is their own mortality they do not want to look at. Men especially, I explained to her, don't seem to be able to deal well with the ongoing tension of a situation they cannot resolve. Women have difficulty with it as well but at least they can "process" the unsolvable by talking ... and talking and talking. Men, either by nature or nurture, are usually far more stoic.
She thanked me for "being at the back of her" -- no doubt a British expression. Contrary to being cowardly and despicable, I find admissions of weakness and fear quite courageous and endearing. Maybe it is because I see myself in her, with all her quirkiness and fragility and inner resistances to the insanity of life.
Maybe when I am 85 and can't see out of one eye and terrified of dying in a retirement compound I cannot bring myself to call "home,' someone will be there for me.
Cindy Hasz is a nurse and freelance writer living in San Diego. She can be reached at email@example.com.