Waiting and Wondering
By Kathe Campbell

The circular driveway and entry to the sprawling adobe and brick multi-winged building is charming. I've passed the place a thousand times never thinking about it's purpose, it's inhabitants, it's supreme care. It's my first visit and I am apprehensive. My husband, Ken, had been sent here to recuperate from a host of ills.

Our rest home seniors wait endlessly in anticipation of something, maybe just a nice day. I see it when I journey into the Convalescent Center's foyer where so many residents peruse every visitor through blank, cold eyes. The wheelchair brigade is backed up against the wall as I rush past acknowledging their presence with a cheery hello while others grunt their own brand of welcomes. But mostly I see lonely oldsters watching the clock, waiting for a familiar face and dreading the moment family or friend says... "good-bye--I have to go now."

Although one of them, it's difficult seeing yesterday's citizens as I settle in to recite one of my stories from an anthology, usually after their dinner hour. Clerks, lawyers, plumbers, accountants, laborers, teachers, beauticians, and parents shuffling and wheeling, lost in space and time. I recognize a friend from one of those times and rush to greet him, but he only stares vacantly, and I die a little inside. But I also see the charismatic and dynamic individuals of yesteryear and yearn to let them know they are still worthwhile. So many are wise and able to give sage advice if we would only lean on them.

Day in and day out oldsters wait for a meal or a bath, a boost into a chair, or help negotiating walkers down an interminable stretch of hallway. They wait for someone to talk to, or an extra blanket for a nap while nurses wrestle with charts, meds and the ever persistent ringing of impatient patients. They wait for the pills that take depression and pain away, the speech class, the arts class, therapy, weekly bingo, or the aloof kitty to thrum its sweet love song. They wait to be taken to the toilet, to have a diaper changed, to be put to bed at last - but mostly they just wait..

Wondering if this is all there is, they line up like school children in their wheelchairs waiting for the dining room doors to open. These are confusing times for seniors, nights being the worst. No visitors, only silence interrupted by occasional indistinguishable sounds that often frighten them out of a sound sleep. And sometimes after a holiday program, they wonder why they woke up the next morning after forgetting the words to Silent Night. Worst of all, they endure a passage of time at a pace none of us can imagine.

Bless the folks who choose to work with those of yesteryear, the nurses and caregivers with loving hearts and sympathetic demeanor. Unfortunately, the ratio of aides to oldsters is less than ideal in most facilities, seniors waiting, sometimes in pain until their needs are fulfilled. I have noticed repeated changing of the guard at three nursing homes in my community, plus a blatant shortage of help that pays little. I see the tenderness that most workers demonstrate, and I see the valiant efforts of organizers to fill senior hours with worthwhile programs and activities.

It was a challenging time for my husband suddenly pitched into a world so foreign from our own as I walked part of this road with him. Treasuring hours together, we looked forward to his daily therapy and endless talk of family. We reminisced our years, our successful labors, our adventures in God's great outdoors, but mostly our good marriage and children to be proud of. We both contemplated spiritual things, our pastor always leaving my man self-assured about his entry into God's glorious kingdom.

My sweetheart longed for me to tell him about my solitary days on our ranch, our beloved animals, the breezes upon our mountain, and the scents after a rain. Always eager to know how many feet of snow, he sighed and smiled at the thought of it all, then dropped off to sleep as a lone tear slid off his cheek. He was locked in a body that refused to work, yet he persistently held onto life, always predicting a better day tomorrow. But his tomorrows only faded as family gathered to recall heartwarming stories and convey their last good-byes. Mother's and Father's Day are around the corner. So many of our oldsters begin their final journey alone but for visitors who take time to fluff a pillow or hold a hand and chat. A smile might be the only sunshine they see all day, for it's time we can well afford to make someone feel cherished. But for the grace of God, at eighty I too am rushing the last roundup, hopefully never to be just another lonely old soul waiting and wondering.

Kathe lives on a Montana mountain with her mammoth donkeys, a Keeshond, and a few kitties. She is a prolific writer on Alzheimer's, and her stories are found on many ezines. Kathe is a contributing author to the Chicken Soup For The Soul and Cup of Comfort series, numerous anthologies, RX for Writers, and medical journals.

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