Posts Tagged ‘nursing home’

(The Iris Diaries)

“Visit the orphans and widows in their affliction…” (James 1:27)

A cute little woman sat in her wheelchair with a little pink crocheted cap covering her thin silver hair.  Her wrinkles branched out across her face in delicate designs, and her blue eyes were bleak and icy like her native country of Finland.  “Hello Linda”, I said.  Linda was a bit shy at first and neither of us knew what to say.  Linda’s English was a bit broken, but very clear, and she began to point out some of the Scandinavian art on her walls, and the photo of her deceased husband, and the beautiful grandfather clock on the wall, which was wound up with an old brass key.  Our first visit was a bit awkward, but we agreed to spend time together more often, and I asked if I could address her as “Grandma”.  The old woman agreed with a shy smile.

I had wanted to adopt a grandma so I visited the care home across the street and spoke with the volunteer coordinator.  There were cages with tropical birds in the sunny room with huge windows that day, and a Jamaican woman named Vida came to see me.  She told me that she knew of a woman named Linda from Finland who was very lonely.  After we talked awhile, I signed some volunteer papers.

Grandma missed her home and gardens.  When her family members took her from her home, they told her it was only for a short time but it had been years now.  She did not know what became of her home, and she said she was very old and tired of living.  Many mornings, she said she was sorry that she had survived through the night.

She read many magazines and books and sometimes children’s books with pictures she could look at.  She watched TV shows about world news and church programs.  She seemed very intelligent. But she often forgot how old she was.  One day she was ninety and the next day she was ninety-five.

My sons went with me sometimes and Linda loved it when we called her “Grandma”.  My youngest son was Grandma’s favorite, and he made origami birds and flowers and other artistic things for her to decorate her room with.  She would always say, “He is so clever”.

Sometimes I would bring her little tea cookies and ginger thins and chocolate.  Grandma said the doctors could never get over how she could eat so much and never get fat and how she seemed to have no real health problems aside from arthritis and getting more forgetful and childish as time went on.

One day I arrived and the old woman was flustered, and asked for help in finding her address book which she had lost.  She seemed very upset so I began to open drawers and cupboards looking for it, and found an old address book with a floral design on the cover.  Grandma practically grabbed it with joy when she saw it and began to look through it with a reflective expression.  She was looking for the name of someone in particular, and she asked me to look it up for her. I can’t recall who it was, but I saw that all of the names had been crossed out. I realized that Grandma had put an “X” through the addresses of all her friends and loved ones as they died. The address book was full of dead people.

Grandma deeply missed Finland where she had lived as a child.  Tears would well up in her eyes when she talked of it.  She complained about the Florida heat, and missing the wintery climate where she came from.

She loved to say things in Finnish, and to try to teach me a few phrases. My mother had a friend named Eeva Blauuw who was Finnish, and I asked my mother if the lady might be willing to write to Grandma.  The old woman was so delighted when she started receiving letters in Finnish.

One Christmas, I gave Grandma a beautiful red sweater with pine trees and pine cones and winter motifs on it.  She was very proud of it and wouldn’t take it off for a long time.  The nurses told me they were trying to get her to wear something else, but she just wouldn’t take it off.

Once I gave her a big white teddy bear made out of an old chenille bedspread.  When I offered it to her, Grandma cried with wide eyes, “Oh, I couldn’t!” Her hands were making anxious grasping motions as she said it, contradicting her words. Suddenly her hands shot out and grabbed the bear then she quickly placed it on her lap and rested her chin on its head contentedly.  As we talked Grandma began to stroke the bear and cuddle it, and laid it on her bed and covered it up.  Then she uncovered it and set it in the chair across from her wheelchair, and it seemed that she could not take her eyes off of it.  I asked her what she would name it and she said shyly that she didn’t know.

“What about ‘Snow Bear’?” I asked.

“Oh I don’t know…” said Grandma thoughtfully. “I think I’ll call him ‘Boyfriend.’”  I realized that the bear had become a companion in the old woman’s mind, and that it would soften her loneliness.

One day I came into the room to visit, and found Grandma sitting on one end of her bed with Boyfriend on the other end, and she had little Scandinavian tea cookies spread out on the bed with little napkins as if they were having a party.  When she saw me coming, she looked down at her hands with embarrassment and she said, “I am like a child in many ways.  You know that.”  I smiled and said, “Yes, I know, and that’s fine.”

As I continued to visit Grandma, the old woman seemed to talk more and more in Finnish and less and less in English. “Bilingual aphasia” can cause elderly people to completely forget one language that they have known and revert back to their native tongue.  At first, I would correct her when she switched to Finnish, but after awhile I stopped correcting her and just nodded my head as though I understood when I really didn’t.  It wasn’t important that I understood everything.  It was more important for the old woman to be able to relax and talk because she was so lonely.

Due to a new job, I found that I did not have the time to visit her as often.  When I did come, she kept forgetting me and spoke mostly in Finnish, so then I stopped visiting for awhile.  After a few weeks had passed, I received a letter in the mail.  It was from Grandma, and the handwriting was messy and in Finnish, but it made me sorry that I had not been visiting.

I was deeply touched that Grandma had taken the time with her arthritic hands to try to write to me. I knew then that I had underestimated Grandma’s mental ability to remember me, and that I had meant more than I realized.  I decided to go and visit her again.

Sadly, Grandma had died when I returned to visit her, and I worried that I might have caused her more distress and loneliness.  I was apprehensive to have Grandma’s last letter translated, because it might increase my sadness to know what the old woman was saying.  I’ll bet “Boyfriend” knew all of her innermost thoughts and feelings.  If only I could have talked to him.

OLIVE TWIST ©2012

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