Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nursing Homes

Please don't send me to a nursing home. Just let me wander out into the winter wilderness to experience its final embrace.

Either that or I want to be shot by a jealous man because I got his twenty-one year old girlfriend pregnant.

My visits to the nursing home are always a blend of sadness, admiration, and hilarity.

I especially like the people who tell me that they'll be leaving soon to go home, or to get their own apartment. It may not really be possible, but I never refute them. They live longer than you'd expect, I think because they give themselves a dream to look forward to.

There are some that never speak and some that never quit shouting at the top of their lungs.

Many are constantly harassed by the indignity of physical problems that they can't keep private.

There are always some who are sexually active with each other. Whatever age they are, the men like to see what they can get away with, and the nurses get a lot more human contact than they really want. Functional men of that age are very popular with the women residents.

I find joy in the fact that in the face of impending death, there's sex, romance, inappropriate behavior, jealousy, and even new marriages that occur in the nursing home.

I often take a worship service to them and I always have lots of singing. Some ministers wait long moments so the people can find the song in the hymnals—but they often can't see the print anyway. I pick the songs they grew up singing and stick with the familiar verses.

Even those who no longer talk or think straight will often still be able to sing.

At my age, I tend to find my worth and identity in my achievements and accomplishments. This is my time to produce. But the elderly people in the nursing homes cannot be what they once were. We have to look harder to see their value.

Often someone will grab my hand and speak urgently of what they used to do. "I was a policeman for 35 years." "I owned a ranch." "I have five children." They want me to know that they were once somebody significant.

When I walk into a stuffy smelly room to visit an old man in his bed and I see WWII medals on the wall behind him, I realize that older folks have nothing more to prove. They are heroes who refuse to go away.

Could I ask you a favor? If you're like me, you don't like going to the nursing home. Please go anyway. You will make someone's day just by entering the building. You could find a blessing, too, if you look deeply enough to really see the people.

Is it too difficult for you? Consider living there and hoping someone will come see you.


  1. I did some ministry in nursing homes as part of my internship in seminary. Almost everyone fell asleep during the sermon, but everyone found a way to stake awake during the singing. It's sort of amazing, isn't it?

  2. They fall asleep during my sermons during the regular worship hour at church too :).

  3. Great post, Clergy Guy. I also think the bigger font is a real boost to the blog's readability.

  4. CWH, Thanks, and thanks also for the positive critique on the font.

  5. How easily we dismiss those that helped us get where we are. I've done some work in nursing homes and the saddest people were the ones who were just abandoned by their families. It's so foreign to me, because my family has always been there for each other regardless of convenience. Great post.

  6. I often wonder the same thing. How can we just abandon people once they've changed to the elderly versions of thmeslves.

  7. I can't help, but be reminded of Cat's In The Cradle.