Saturday, October 11, 2008

On the Way to the Elevator

Our younger son helped me shop for my mother and then came back with me to visit her at the rehab last night.

As we walked down the hall toward the elevator, I noticed an elderly woman sitting in a wheelchair, up against the far wall, facing directly opposite us. She was sobbing... non stop sobbing. If you just ripped my heart out of my chest and stomped on it at that point... it couldn't possibly hurt anymore than seeing her cry. As we walked closer... I was wondering what was wrong. Does she always cry? Is she clinically depressed? Is there some other pathology that causes her to do this? I was so focused on her... that I didn't think to look at my son to get his reaction.

As we continued walking toward her and the elevator, which was on the corner just before where she was ...I was trying to decide if I should try to console her or go on the elevator to visit my mother. The nurses station was also on the opposite corner in this area, but there wasn't any staff anywhere and the halls were empty. It was just this elderly woman sobbing all alone.

To be honest...I was really tired and just wanted to get in and check on mom, show her the new things we bought her , visit briefly and go back home. I was feeling drained from the events of the last week. I was glad to have younger son going with me this time which kind of gave me a boost with not feeling so alone in this process.

But... I couldn't ignore her. I couldn't pretend that I wasn't near another human being feeling so distressed and not try to do ...something.

So... I walked over and while bending down directly in front of her... to face her...I asked if she was alright?

Her head was facing downward and she was sobbing so hard, that she was oblivious to our being there.

I quickly thought to myself "Of COURSE she's not alright or she wouldn't be SOBBING!"

So I revised my question.

"Hi...what's wrong?"

She was still sobbing and I was thinking maybe I shouldn't be interfering.

But I persisted a little more loudly, "What's wrong?"

With that she looked up surprised. She was still crying but her shoulders stopped heaving.

With eye contact now, "What's wrong?"

Still crying she said 'What?"

More loudly "Hi, I'm Pat...what's wrong?"

I was beginning to think I made a mistake and was beginning to wonder what staff might be thinking if they heard me because I didn't want to overstep any boundaries. You know how your thoughts go through your brain at lightening speed all the while you are engaged in an activity? I'm always thinking behind the scenes.

She said, "I can't hear you."


Through tears she said. "I lost my apartment." She bowed her head and continued to cry.

I said"I'M SO SORRY. I'M SORRY YOU LOST YOUR APARTMENT. THAT MUST BE SO DIFFICULT FOR YOU." (I was wondering was this recent or 20 years ago?)

I asked her what her name was.

She said "Richard".



At first I was thinking, okay she has dementia but just as quickly was looking at her trying to figure out if maybe I looked at her wrong and she was really a HE... a man.

She stopped crying for a few seconds and started again saying "I lost Justin, I lost Justin." (I was wondering was Justin her/his son, husband or a pet?)

Just as I was going to respond... another elderly woman wheeled toward me from the darkened room that was right there.

She said, "I'm her roommate."

Okay... I was right...she IS a woman. (I really thought she was... but admittedly was momentarily thrown off.)

So I extended my hand to shake her roommate's hand and said "Hi, I'm Pat. What's your name?"


"It's nice to meet you Paula! This is my son Chris." He smiled and said "Hi."

Also as I turned around to introduce Chris, I was surprised to see that another elderly lady had stealthily wheeled up behind me. We actually saw her in the front lobby when we came in and I saw her yesterday wheeling around with an infant baby doll in her arms. She still had the baby doll in her arms.

I turned to face her, extended my hand for a handshake and said "Hi...I'm Pat...what's your name?"

Shaking my hand she said, "Ruth."

"Well it's nice to meet you too Ruth and this is my son Chris"

He smiled and said "Hi."

I turned back to the lady (Richard) who was no longer sobbing.

Offering my hand I Loudly said, "IT'S NICE TO MEET YOU TOO RICHARD!"

She wasn't even crying anymore. She shook my hand. I said goodnight to Richard and Paula and when I turned to say goodnight to Ruth...for a split in the movies... I expected to see that they had multiplied and that there were 20 elderly people in wheelchairs behind me. (my whacky sense of humor)

They all looked at us quizzically yet appreciatively.

I believe in firm handshakes...yet their hands seemed so fragile and gnarly...that I only gave them a gentle squeeze... if that.

Richard had completely stopped crying.

I smiled waved and said bye one more time as we got on the elevator. They watched us the whole time until we closed the doors.

I never did see any staff. I had to shout so loud for Richard...I am sure the entire unit
(both wings) could've heard. Like I said...I hope I didn't overstep my bounds.

While Chris and I were in the elevator I asked him if he minded that I did that? He warmly smiled at me and said no he didn't mind. And the look in his eyes was special. I could see that he actually appreciated the exchange.

I realized that without planning to...I taught him a valuable life lesson... and that warms my heart. :)

Also, we both had wanted to visit and leave... but instead we stayed a long time with mom and left after they locked their doors.

And Mom seemed happier and was telling us about the day's events. She said they got her up walking a bit during physical therapy. I felt like she was getting better care and felt comfortable enough that I have taken today for myself and doing things around the house. We will all visit her tomorrow and I will be going back over on Monday too.


Elaine said...

Glad to hear that things are looking up for your mother.

Also well done for being that Good Samaritan who did not pass by on the other side.

SeaSpray said...

Thanks Elaine. I would hope someone would be kind to my loved ones if they needed help or attention. I can't imagine intentionally ignoring someone in need.

Chrysalis Angel said...

It was sweet of you, Seaspray, to try to lend some human kindness to this poor woman. The more I think of getting older the less it feels a worthy goal.

SeaSpray said...

Hi Angel-I want to be like the 90 year olds I met in Lifeline with sense of humor, faith and wisdom to impart. If you have your mind and aren't warehoused somewhere and still have people that love you...I'd stick around. I think what must be sad is when you outlive your kids, family and friends. I've seen that. But I think if we learn while healthy in life to reach out to others, to think about helping or listening...just being a friend...that maybe it won't be so bad. faith is key. I think faith is what gives us the strength to press forward and eyes to see the good in things.

I would love to be able to see my great grandchildren and great greats, etc. :)

I don't want to be a burden though and that is the scary part.

I want to be a blessing and not a hindrance.

I wish it was like the old days where generations of family lived nearby and you knew all your relatives and there was support and bonds as opposed to everyone being spread out across country and more impersonal.

Although if you don't get along...impersonal is good.

Ann of the Incredible Gift said...

Your post brought my mother and her problems sharply to mind. She passed away in 2000.

We never got along terribly well, but over the last five months of her life, after I persuaded her to move closer to me, we patched things up a good bit. I shall have to write some Mom stories on my blog soon. Thank you.

SeaSpray said...

Hi Ann-I would love to read what you write about your relationship with your mother! Your comment is an encouragement and I am glad you patched things up with your Mom. I am hoping to do the same. :)

Thanks for stopping by. :)