Soft Rocking with the Elderly

I spent an inordinate amount of time around nursing homes as a child. My oldest sister worked as a dietician at a few of them over the years, perfecting the fine art of pureeing foods that should never be pureed, on a massive scale. To this day, she makes one mean creamed corn. The homes held employee family events for every major holiday. Typically, six or seven employees would bring their adorable preschool-age children, and my sister would bring my brother (at the time, an adorable preschooler) and me (four years older than everyone else, except for one other girl, with whom I developed one of those default situationally-forced friendships that turn into awkward acquaintanceships in adulthood but weirdly last forever even though neither party wants or intends for this to happen). Yet they’d always set up elaborate Easter egg hunts, haunted houses, and Santa’s cottages as if expecting a crowd of hundreds.

We were there primarily for the residents to ooh and aah over, surrogates for the family that had invariably forgotten them. Some of the events would happen completely separate from the residents, but then all the kids would get ushered down the halls to say ‘hi’ to everyone, which was terrifying and sometimes took hours. The smell of urine and industrial cleaners burned my nostrils and made my eyes water. One woman got really attached to my brother and called him “Vera” and practically bear-hugged him to death every time we stopped by. Half of the people either couldn’t hear or couldn’t communicate coherently. Half of them lacked teeth. Leathery, spotty hands grabbed at me from all directions. Picture an Are You Afraid of the Dark episode scenario, if you will. Sometimes, nurses had to intervene to make the residents let go of us when it was time to leave.

Quite understandably, I developed a strong early aversion to the elderly. However, I also sort of gave up and decided that being smother-hugged by dozens of elderly strangers four times a year was an inevitability of life, something that all children simply had to endure as a matter of course.

A lot of unrelated stuff happens for a very long time in this convoluted story after my sister moves on to a non-nursing home job. Let’s fast forward like fifteen years and pretend this paragraph makes for an adequate transition.

So, um, I’ve been an in-home care provider for the elderly for the past four years! Surprise! I mean, I guess it kind of makes sense. I came into this already desensitized to all the gross parts, and I know how awful nursing homes can be and how important it is for these people to maintain what shards of independence they’ve got left. I also love the stories they’ve got to tell (cue Disney music and awwws). And, much like zombies, the elderly aren’t half as bad taken one at a time. It’s the hordes you have to watch out for.

I’m taking a break from the one-on-ones, though, now, for at least a short while. This blog, though, is going to contain a lot of stories about my home care experience, in all its moth ball-y, afternoon talk show-filled, bland-tasting glory. I’m a magnet for improbable occurrences and miscellaneous inexplicable weird shit, as well, and I’ll try to cover all that as I’m able. Maybe more often as time goes on? I have no idea. Mostly, I think we’re all here for the vague high achieved from too much time with those moth balls, right? And weird garage-sale sourced gifts. And Rod Stewart’s smooth, smooth voice played at an ear-shattering 120 decibels for hours on end. If that’s the case, I promise you won’t be disappointed. Just go with it.

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