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Surrounded at the Nursing Home

Surrounded at the Nursing Home

“Remember the tenth of December!” the old man said, pointing a warning finger at me.


It was a cold day in December when my grandma fell and broke her hip. She was 91, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. Before her accident she was always on the move; she did her own cooking, shopping, gardening, and laundry. Now she was confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home. Needless to say she was not a happy camper.

I visited my her whenever I could, but I didn’t enjoy it. Everything about it made me uncomfortable – from the smell of ammonia that seemed to permeate every inch of the place to the squeaking of the wheelchairs on the tile floor. But the hardest part was seeing all the sick, wrinkled, dilapidated old people.

One day, I visited my grandma in the day room where all the residents sit together and do different activities. As soon as the residents saw me – a young person! – they got excited.

“Miss, miss! Can you get me some water?”

“Young lady, come here. I want to tell you something.”

“Girl in the blue skirt, do you know where the nurse is?”

It reminded me of what happened to me when I was a little kid visiting the Claws and Paws, a zoo where you can feed the animals. My parents gave me crackers to feed the sheep. I walked into the pen and held my crackers out in front of me. In a split second I surrounded by all the sheep. They bleated at me and butted their heads against my legs. I dropped the crackers and ran out screaming.

Now in the nursing home, I was reliving the experience.

But I’m an adult, I reminded myself. I can handle this. No running out the door. No screaming. I took a deep breath and walked over to my grandmother.

She was thrilled to see me. (Apparently, having a granddaughter visit you is a huge status symbol in a nursing home.) We had a nice conversation, but while we were talking an old man, with watery blue eyes and a bald head, wheeled over to me. “Miss,” he said, “I notice you’re wearing glasses.”

“That’s right.” I said.

“You know, some people say ‘girls in glasses shouldn’t make passes.’”

I smiled and nodded politely. Poor guy, he’s completely senile, I thought to myself.

“Do you know the date?” he asked me.

“It’s the tenth of December,” I replied.

“Remember! Remember the tenth of December!” he said, pointing a warning finger at me.

“Uh… sure,” I mumbled. I gave him another keep-the-crazy-man-happy smile and turned back to my grandmother.

Shortly after that I said goodbye to my grandma and left. That night, I had a hard time sleeping. I thought back to my visit at the nursing home.

Remember! Remember the tenth of December!”

I sat up in my bed. I had suddenly remembered that I had an important paper that had to be submitted by December tenth at midnight. The professor had said that if we didn’t get it in by midnight we shouldn’t bother handing it in at all. I had finished the paper a week ago, but I had forgotten to submit it.

I dashed to the computer and managed to send the paper just in time.

I am very grateful to that old man from the nursing home. Not only did he unwittingly remind me to submit my paper, he also taught me an important lesson. How often do we assume that we have all the answers? How often do we think that we’re better than the people we meet as we go through life? I was arrogant when I walked into that nursing home. I assumed that there was nothing that a group of senile octogenarians could do to help me.

I was wrong. In the words of Ben Zoma in Ethics of the Fathers (4:1): Who is wise? The one who learns from every person.

September 27, 2012

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Anonymous, October 15, 2012 7:19 PM

the real point of the article

To me the highlight of your article was "Apparently, having a granddaughter visit you is a huge status symbol in a nursing home." I hope many others take your lead and help make their grandparents into status symbols. Even if the tenth of December really meant something or nothing is not the point, that you brought some nachas to your grandmother and lifted some peoples spirits is the point. Hope you do it again and again.

(4) Dave, October 5, 2012 5:23 PM

Wisdom of Age

Indeed Lauri you could learn more from octogenarians then those University professors. Although some old people didn't learn much from life, they all deserve are respect and have learned somethings we haven't. I know there is a verse in the Talmud that puts this much more eloquently. The elderly may not know much about Ipods or cell phones but the older you get the more you will realize how unimportant those things are. Many people lived and died without them and were none the worse. We can save years of missteps by learning from the elderly. Imagine an elderly Torah sage -- what a source of wisdom. If you want to learn the secrets of life, spend time with the elderly. You can teach them to use your Ipad in exchange, but they are the ones who will have done you the favor.

(3) YehudahLeib Fisher, October 2, 2012 9:02 AM

Honour your father and your mother

"Honour your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you." We have busy lives. Sometimes we don't know how we will fit everything into our day. Then a parent asks us for something. It sounds to us like a "want", but they say it's a "need". So we think: "It doesn't seem urgent to me. If I have time later, I'll do it." Then maybe it's forgotten by us. But The Ribono Shel Olam is telling us: "Give your parents priority, do what they ask you for, maybe even before your own stuff... and then I shall LENGTHEN YOUR DAY to enable you to do what you need/want to do too. I give you this Commandment to give priority to your parents, and I shall see to it that you will actually get more done. I rule the world, and what you don't get done that day as a consequence... you were not meant to get done that day." Make Al1yah as soon as you can.

(2) Anonymous, September 28, 2012 9:11 PM

Your blog proves my point about being able to learn something from anyone, regardless of his/her age. Refuah Shelemah to your grandmother.

(1) Sarah Vorchheimer, September 28, 2012 3:07 AM

They're brighter than you think!

בס"ד Just because the residents of nursing homes are confined to wheelchairs or walking frames does not mean they have lost their brains. What if the old man had been the writer's Professor? Most elderly people are very wise and learned and mightily resent being treated like kindergarten people or like objects. Just because someone is physically hampered, if does not mean they have lost their intelligence. Nursing home residents are often very neglected. In this modern world, how many have forgotten the commandment "Honour your father and mother"? (And that includes grandparents, teachers and older citizens, generally.)

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