Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Nursing Home

"These poor people, " my friend commiserated. "I feel so sorry for them, trapped in bodies that don't respond, with minds that are deteriorating, and then having to live in a place like this," she said as she swept her hand in front of her, indicating the sprawling nursing home before us.

"If I ever get to the point where I can't function independently, I think I'd just rather not live. What kind of quality of life can that be?" she wondered as we pressed the security button and waited to be buzzed in.

We made our way to the activity room, a sunny oasis with large windows and cheerful pastels on the wall and the furniture.

Aged men laughed heartily around one table as their game of dominoes took an unexpected turn. Another woman with wispy white hair and a toothless smile nodded and hummed to a melody heard only by her, even tapping her bent fingers on the armrest of her wheelchair.

A man who sat alone in his wheelchair nodded pleasantly as we walked past and answered animatedly in syllables unattached to any meaning after I asked him how he was doing.

A group of women, some of whom we had seen before, congregated around a large table near the middle, huddling close as they talked over something intently.

My friend and I set about our work of visiting and distributing some fruit to those in the activity room. One of the aides stopped by our table. "Good to see you two this morning, " she greeted us.

Muted cries that sounded like weeping came to us from the large table of women in the center.

"Is everything OK with them?" I asked her.

"Yes, bless their hearts. Paulita's husband, who usually visits her everyday, had a small stroke and is recovering in the hospital. Her family and all of the staff explain this to her everyday, but she forgets and wakes up in the morning thinking that he has died. It takes a lot of convincing to get her to understand that, and then she wakes up having to go through the whole process again.

I inched closer, not wanting to intrude, but to see if perhaps there was a way I could be of help.

Paulita wept openly, her hand over her heart, as if to hold the beating organ together.

A plump woman known as the Singing Lady for her penchant for loudly singing corridos from the 1940's patted Paulita's hand and sang a slow little tune to her.

A slight woman in a wheelchair, Sofia, appeared to lose interest with the goings on and slowly pushed herself in her chair down the hall, back to her room.

My friend came up to me and whispered, "I don't know how she's pushing herself in the wheelchair- she's got arthritis really bad in her hands and shoulders. I guess she got tired, though. She doesn't really talk anymore, so it's hard to tell." I noticed her fingers were contorted into unnatural positions as she slowly disappeared out the door.

The other ladies continued their comforting of Paulita, patting her and consoling her, sometimes with real words and sometimes with just sounds. Although a number of them could not remember their own family members, empathy and compassion were deeply embedded and well lived.

Paulita was calming down though her pink- cheeked face was wet with tears. She sniffled and smiled a bit as we passed out the last of our fruit.

I noticed Sofia slowly pushing herself back into the activity room. An aide went over to see if she needed help, but Sofia waved her away.

She alternated from one large wheel to the next, making her course somewhat crooked, and it was evident from her expression that each push hurt. Still, she pointed her chair to Paulita's table and arrived just as we packed up the last of our stuff.

Paulita watched as Sofia painstakingly pulled the wheelchair up beside her. Without a word, Sofia drew something from her lap and handed it to Paulita. It was a box of Kleenex.

When Paulita hesitated, Sofia pulled one out and gently dabbed Paulita's cheeks. As carefully as if the upset woman had been one her own children, Sofia finished swabbing Paulita's cheeks, then kissed her own life worn hand, pressed that palm into Paulita's forehead and patted it. She smiled at Paulita as she slowly turned her wheelchair around to head back down the hall to her room.

Quality of life, indeed.

62 comments:

  1. Such a tender, heartfelt story, and well told. Thanks for sharing it. When my mother needed an assisted living facility we took her to look at quite a few facilities and she selected the last one that would have been MY choice. But she's content there and I'm reminded that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we should keep our judgements to ourselves.

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    1. Stephen: I agree. For as much as they are able to make their own choices, it should be up them, as much as possible.

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  2. That was a wonderful story, but from my experience I don't like nursing homes - sorry. But I do get what you mean - it is a person's choice how to handle the situation they are in - and I hope if that happened to me I would do that too. Sandie

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    1. Sandie: I really don't like them either, and I really have to psych myself up to go, but they looked like they were comfortable (a lot of them had dementia/ Alzheimer's) and at peace, so that was a good thing.

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  3. There is a large facility in Rocky Mount, NC called Brekenridge Retirement Center. I held services every Sunday afternoon for a couple of years. Every time there was a group of about 12 ladies and 1 blind gentleman waiting for me. They seemed happy and were appreciative for our being there. I guess sometimes people may assume that since they are old that they have a relationship with the Lord but too many times that is not the case so that ministry is really needed too.
    Thanks for the story.

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    1. Odie: Bless you, my friend, for doing that ministry. They are all to often the forgotten people, but their souls are just as vibrant as ours, even though their bodies may be failing.

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  4. Okay you are on warning. You have got to stop making me cry.

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    1. HumorSmith: I have to admit that it brought a tear to my eye when I saw it. I was so thankful I did get to witness it.

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  5. I was working at a nursery home once, during a summer. It was interesting but sad at the same time. Most of them had dementia. Good story.
    Have a great day!

    Eva

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    1. Eva: How wonderful you were able to help them like that. I can totally understand how it would be a difficult job. Thank you for stopping by~

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  6. That you still care is a blessing to someone who most needs it. I doubt that anyone in the prime of life ever said, "I sure hope I can spend my final years in a nursing home." We do not, cannot, plan for all contingencies. Which of us knows that it will or will not be me you next visit in a "home"?

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    1. vanilla: You are so right- I'm sure not any of those folks had that in their long range plans, and yet, it happens. We need to realize we will all be older, perhaps with failing bodies and minds. It's good to treat them as we'd want to be treated.

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  7. Shelly, I love your writing. This subject is near and dear to me. I worked through college as a CNA and then for two years as an RN in a nursing home. I had a boyfriend who wouldn't come inside to pick me up after work because "It smells like pee and those people are creepy." I didn't keep him around very long. To an outside observer though his observations were probably fairly accurate. My first time walking down those halls I wasn't sure I would ever come back. But by the time I had worked long enough to have the experience needed to apply at the hospital, I didn't want to leave. I spent my last year there as the charge nurse on the Alzheimer's unit and it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I am happy that you take the time to serve those remarkable people. I know that they appreciate you. As do the nurses! :)

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    1. Nancy: You were wise to not keep that boyfriend too long- his heart probably needed some work. I loved reading about how you came to love it. It really is so stark at first, but then you start to see the humanity and love in all of it. I'm sure you were such a blessing to all those patients. It takes a person with an uncommon amount of love to do what you did.

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    2. I laughed reading your reply, realizing that not only did I not keep that boy around too long, but I ended up marrying a fellow CNA from the nursing home. Matt was so kind and gentle with all of those elderly men and all of the ladies were in love with him. I had no choice. :)

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    3. Nancy: Then you found the right guy! I love hearing that love story. Even if it did make all the elderly ladies jealous. I hope they forgave you for stealing him away from them- :)

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  8. For a short period of my life I worked in the BO of a nursing home...a bit nervous at first but found out these beautiful people are just like us...wake up in good moods, wake up in cranky moods. They laugh they cry, they hurt, they joy, but the one thing most obvious is they hunger for attention...love...as we do on the outside but we on the outside have not reached that place of "admitting how much we need love"....I fell in love with a couple of ladies, sweet sweet...one was a black lady from Baton Rouge, Sarah...had a hard life, her friendship did not come easily nor did her trusting me...but it came as I allowed the Lord to guide me with his amazing wisdom...and Ruth oh how sweet...she was my age but had the mind of a 12-13 year old...couldn't speak very well...she loved Dr.Pepper...she would call me "Old Woman"...she slurred her words together and if you did not spend time with her it would be hard to understand her mumbled words...Too many times people will throw their family member in such places and then sometimes the family member needs to be in such as a nursing home for the medical care....but soon they are forgotten and life becomes to busy to make a trip to see Grandma, Grandpa, momma or dad,....sister ....Ruth did not have any family other than a sister that only visited once a month....Sarah had none....Daily my heart laughed with these wonderful lives, and daily my heart cried with some....and then privately I would cry on my way home when one would receive bad news, or die....truly my life was made richer through this experience!

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    1. Rhonda:I really am in awe of people like you who work so lovingly with our elderly and disabled. I can only imagine what kind of an emotional wringer it must have been, but what love you showed those people like Sarah and Ruth. It really is a reward unto itself, isn't it? I love stories that?

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  9. We're all in the same boat. Why do we go through most of our lives forgetting that? As tiny children we play together in harmony until, at some point, we are taught that our differences matter more than that which we all have in common. From that point on we tend to withdraw to separate camps, divided along the lines of gender, age, race, religion and nationality. We adopt an "us and them" mentality. It doesn't have to be that way. Why does it take something as devastating as 9-11 to break the pattern, shake us awake, get us to stop being Republican or Democrat and instead be a united America? Why must it take the threat of a giant asteroid colliding with earth to get the entire population of the planet to stop making war and join together as one to find a solution? The residents of that nursing home have relearned what they already knew as children. We're all in the same boat. Love a stranger. Do it not because they're on the same team, not because they wave the same flag, not because they're great, but because you're great.

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    1. Shady: You hit the nail on the head, my friend. I thought about that when we were there- how the great circle of life makes us more and more childlike as we progress. I think that's what we all need- to approach life with that kind of attitude. The world would be a whole lot better place.

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  10. Oh, I love how your story ended. You should write for some pro-life papers!!

    Whenever we've gone to nursing homes, it is as you've described...although, I'm sure there are many aspects to nursing homes that are sad, we usually see the men and women having a ball! I think one of the hardest parts is their families forget about alot of them.

    (I also know there are alot of bad nursing homes with poor care, but not around here, the nursing homes are pretty nice)

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    1. Jamie: Thank you! It was just so touching. And yes, I see so many good times there that it really surprised me. I think a lot of people stay away because they think it will be depressing, and some of it is hard, but there is so much warmth and love that it really is a wonder.

      We see the same thing here- mostly very nice homes with caring workers.

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  11. Oh Shelly, your writing is beautiful. This brings tears to my eyes. I want to take lessons and work towards being an assistant to a social worker myself. Getting credits for a social worker will be hard considering my age and expenses, but I heard that being an assistant is not too difficult. Reality is in understanding what old age is all about and understanding disability along with old age brings us closer to people which in turn will bring us closer to God. Excellent Post Thanks !!!

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    1. Munir: Oh, you would be wonderful at it! I can tell you have so much love and compassion in you and it would be such a wonderful thing to share in a place like that. I hope you are able to pursue it!

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  12. I also have tears in my eyes, after reading that Shelly. Your writing really does always touch the spot. That dear, dear lady, struggling along in her wheelchair to get those tissues for a friend. How wonderful that they still have that compassion in their hearts to do things like that for each other. I do hope that they are all looked after with the dignity and respect that they deserve, which is not always the case, and it breaks my heart to think about it. So good to be back again! Hope all is well with you my friend.

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    1. Thisisme: So good to have you back, my friend! Glad your internet troubles are fixed. I agree- I so wish all our elderly could be looked after with great compassion and care. They deserve nothing less.

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  13. What an amazing story made me think of all those who have no visitors me and mum go and see my nan every week but the woman she shares a room with has no vistors and often gets upset when me and mum arrive as she often thinks mum is her daughter and doesn't understand why she is talkiing to the woman in the other bed calling her mum............it is sad to see.

    Yes I miss my nan the spark and twinkle in her eyes but when I look at her I rarely see the woman she is now I still see my nan, if that makes any sense

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    1. Jo-Anne: That is so sad, the ones who have no one to visit. You and your mum are so good to stay so close to your nan, even when they have so drastically changed.

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  14. This was very touching, Shelly. I have worked in hospitals for 13 years. Most of those years, it's been in a cancer hospital exclusively. I'm now working some at a general hospital, one that receives many, many 90+ year-olds with Alzheimers. I see wet faces of family members all the time as they wonder what to do with their loved one. Prolong their life with a feeding tube? Not get a feeding tube and watch them basically starve? It's horrible. I suppose that is why we have to have faith that God will work things out. If we remain here in a state like you describe, maybe it is to offer another one comfort in the same state, to offer words of wisdom for others, to touch a hurting hand... Thanks for making me think, Shelly. Loved this.

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    1. Kelley: What a hard thing to have to see on a regular basis. And what heart wrenching decisions those families have to make. You are right, it is our faith in the Lord that will get us through those horrible spots like that. I love that the sweetness of these ladies still comes out, even though they've lost so much of who they once were.

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  15. Dearest Shelly,
    Oh, Shelly thank you very much for sharing this story today!!!
    Your beautiful story made me think a lot, my friend.
    How wonderful they still have caring hearts, also I feel sorry for Ms. Paulita who should repeat the feeling of sorrow about her husband.
    As you might know about my father, I always wonder how my father's brain is functioning now. He may still recognise my face as person whom he knows and smiles whenever I visit him. And amazingly he can read even hard kanji when I let him read books or he remembers and sings songs his old favorites when I let him hear from You-tube through smat-phone.
    Well, he doesn't understand me as his daughter; which made me feel a bit painful before. Anyway, I apprecite my late brother finding the good place for him, all the room are private and kind of spacious. Thanks for his pension money we can afford him for the paticular place. Oh, he still is my brave man who did every thing for his family♡♡♡
    Love you always, xoxo Miyako*

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    1. My 96 year old Grandmother is in a nursing home/rehab center for rehab only but let me tell you it's been an experience.

      Although the staff has been nice, her care has been questionable. My grandmother in all of her 96 years still has her wits about her and KNOWS what's going on, to say the least nothing gets past her.

      I'll be really glad when she's released and back home where she belongs.

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    2. Miyako: I'm so sorry that your father can't recognize you anymore as his daughter, but I am thankful he still recognizes you as someone he knows. Our brains are amazing things. When it looks like so muvh else has deteriorated, there are still parts that function so well, like with your dad. There's one lady here that doesn't know her own name, but can still play the piano beautifully.

      Take care, my friend!

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    3. Saimi: What an amazing blessing to have your 96 year old grandma here and with all her wits! I do hope, too, she gets out and back home soon. Some of those places are really good, and some not so. Reading about your grandma made me miss mine. Give her a hug for me!

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  16. This was a beautiful story of love towards the lady who thought her husband was dead. I really appreciate the people who take care of the elderly who are sick.

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    1. Belle: I really do think there are special blessings for those who take care of folks like this. It takes a special heart, for sure.

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  17. You pretty much captured the "flavor" of ye olde nursing home. Cindy's mom has Alzheimer's and is living out her life in one of those. You want to hear the "good" news? Her mind is so gone she has no complaints at all. If I make it to heaven I do want to ask God one thing---why?

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    1. I'm so sorry to about Cindy's mom. I'll never understand in this life the reason for the way so many lives end. someday, though, someday...

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  18. Fresh fruit is a great idea! Richard and Elliot and I must go back to Meadowview to see our friend Elizabeth, our hands full of giant oranges.
    I admit to feeling taken aback (almost knocked over) by the aroma of care centers, and unprepared for the sight of people in wheelchairs staring blankly toward the ceiling. Then, when my husband started reaching out, saying hello, shaking a hand, stopping to listen, I learned a great lesson. I was so glad that this man was my husband. When I am old, his hand is the one I want to be holding. So I would be like the woman who cries every day, thinking that her beloved has died. But what a gift to have these friends who care! This is the true meaning of life, to love one another. You inspire me with your stories and the way you reach out to all people, children, adults, elderly, and those who are largely ignored. What a blessing that you are also my friend! Thank you for sharing these beautiful moments of life.

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    1. Jenny: I so love the way you talk about your husband! I feel the same way about mine. I think it's a good measure of a man in three things: how they treat their mothers, how they treat animals, and how they treat the elderly.

      I am the one truly blessed to call you my friend! I hope you are feeling better and resting.

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  19. That sweet story brought tears to my eyes. My daughter is a social worker and before she had her little girls she worked in a care facility. She loved these older people so much, and they really responded to her energy, honesty and vitality. It was sweet to see. Now that my aunt is in a facility (not a nursing home but one where there's a dining room and you don't cook for yourself) it's wonderful to see how these beautiful people have taken her under their wings and have helped her through her grief at my grandmother's passing. We, as her family, did everything we could, but she wouldn't have healed like she has without the additional help of these wonderful people who have now become her family as well. I owe them such a thank you!

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    1. Karen: I'm so glad we have such wonderful young people going into this field, just like your daughter. They are loving, caring, and have the highest level of compassion.

      God bless your auntie- I hope she continues to thrive and blossom.

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  20. Shelly, thank you for sharing such a wonderful and powerful story. Blessings.

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    1. Just Be Real: Thank you for stopping by!

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  21. we are all connected to each other in this world....and one act of kindness like this benefits the whole world. maybe today we can all do an act of kindness for another human being and make the world a better place.

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    1. momto8: You are so right. It's when we forget those connections that we fall into trouble.

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  22. Shelly,
    You have a loving way of pointing out that the eye of the beholder can either be softly sympathetic or negatively jaundiced.

    Obviously yours is one of the former. This was a wonderful and insightful post. Having spent many hours and sometimes days in this type of facility, visiting, singing, doing handcrafts, I can tell you from experience that your positive attitude is a blessing to those you touch. :) Blessings to you - Marsha

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    1. Marsha: What very kind words- thank you! I was amazed to see how deep their compassion and love run even though they are undergoing such huge mental challenges. I was the one blessed.

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  23. Oh, Shelly. How beautiful.

    At all ages, we need friends. Going through difficulties knowing that there are people who feel for you make the burden lighter.

    I hope to be this lucky as I age.

    Pearl

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    1. Pearl: May we all have friends like that who will last our whole life long.

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  24. What a beautifully heartfelt story this was and so well written too!!!

    This was simply a beautiful act of kindness. No matter the age a good friend is one of life's most precious treasures!

    Thank you for this sweetie!

    God bless and have yourself a fantastic weekend!!! :o)

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    1. Nezzy: You are so right- one of life's great blessings are true friends, no matter the age. Thank you for stopping by!

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  25. What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for posting this. As you can see by the comments, you're really affecting people! :)

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    1. Lydia: Thank you- those ladies really touched me. We never lose our humanity, no matter how old we are or the situation our minds and bodies are in.

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  26. Shelly, you have such a tender heart. I love to read your writings. You tell a story so well. You make people feel. That's what we want. To feel something.

    I used to visit a woman regularly at a nursing home. she was bilingual in life but had a stroke and forgot how to speak English. I went and visited her once a month until she passed away. She loved for me to paint her nails. Her nails were strong and beautiful. I would also sing hymns in Spanish to her, which she loved. Often shoe would tell me of people in the nursing home that had passed away. She expressed jealousy. She said it wasn't fair that God had kept her Here so long. When she finally passed I was sad and missed her. But happy for her too. It was what she wanted.

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    1. Crystal: What a wonderful, beautiful thing you did by investing your time and care into that woman. You made her last days ones of love and peace instead of abandonment and sorrow. I think we all have that capacity in us. Good for you for tapping into it.

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  27. Nursing homes are much nicer than they used to be. Yours here in this story is one such lovely place.. Really, we all desire to be with like minded, similar aged people. It is another step forward in life. It is one where they are shortly to be taken home,to be with, the lover of their souls. As I age the relevance of all this comes to me. I am slowing down.. Where once I raced, literally ran around an emergency department, now I limp around the house and shops..Life changes and we have to embrace the changes. Much love to you. xx

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    1. Crystal Mary: I have really begun to notice with some of these people, as their bodies and minds deteriorate, their souls take on a more vigorous vibrancy, one that I can sense. It is clear to me they are fine with shedding their earthly trappings, getting ready for that trip to their real home. Hugs to you, my friend!

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  28. Shelly, your writing is some of the best I've read here in blogland. Whenever I read one of your posts, I'm completely drawn in to the scenes you describe and I'm always left either laughing or crying - never without emotion. When I read your "Midnight Cowgirl" post I laughed out loud, then almost cried for you because I felt so badly that you didn't get to enjoy your quiet night on the couch with your novel like you'd planned. I read that one to my husband too. His eyes widened as the events of your night unfolded. It was almost unbelievable that you went through that. Life is so funny with it's twists and turns. Your "Wild Story of Love and Betrayel" was another classic and now this one has touched my heart and left me with a tear of joy in my eye. I really think you should compile your stories into a book and publish them. I'd sure buy it! And I'd buy copies for all of my friends as gifts too. You really are that good! You have a real gift and I thank you for sharing it here.

    I read a lot of posts in Google Reader on my phone these days so that's why I haven't commented for so long. I always jump right over to yours as soon as I see one and I'm never disappointed. Thank you for all the kind comments you've left on mine. You are truly a blessing.

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    1. Jenn June: Wow! Thank you so much for your very kind and sweet words. You really brought a smile to my face this morning!

      We were just laughing about my nighttime romp through the cow pasture last night. Gosh that was a mess!

      I really appreciate you and what a sweet spirit you always have. It means a lot that you read my posts!

      Likewise, I always enjoy reading your posts and it is easy for me to see the talent you have. Your photography is also amazing! I am glad we have connected in this blogging universe!

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  29. I have first hand experience here. My mom was in a nursing home for a few years before she died at the end of February.
    I went almost every day and I got attached to some of the folks who live there. I've gone back several times to visit.
    The one where my mom was did a very good job. The staff was incredible, I didn't have the first complaint.
    A friend sent me something written by The Buddha that put it all perspective (I'm paraphrasing)

    It is in our nature to grow old
    It is in our nature to get sick
    It is in our nature to die

    Your update was nicely written.

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    1. Life 101: Please accept my condolences on your sweet mom. You are a faithful son not only to visit her daily, but also to continue visiting the other folks there now. It's such a relief to know that our loved ones are in a place where the people truly care about them.

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