For some, the phrase “nursing home” brings up negative responses. When my mother needed a nursing home, I opted for the positive. She did too.
Mom was born in Connecticut, raised in Italy, and married Dad in America. He worked long hours so Mom amused herself with books and movies. She wished for more. What she didn’t wish for was life in a nursing home. She grew up in a time when funerals were in private homes and death was scary for a kid. As an adult, what she heard about nursing homes added to her fears.
When my 93-year-old-mother’s health declined, she couldn’t live alone nor did she want to. With her fear in my mind, I called it “the hospital.” She never questioned it and whenever I visited neither of us had any complaints. Her shared room resembled a bedroom in a private home. It was comfortable and clean. My mother was too. After several months there she had one question – “Do you think they’ll let me stay here?” She was happy, no longer alone, and being cared for. It was like having Dad back. Mom enjoyed visits and cards and always had something to talk about. She loved it when you brought her new clothes. For the first time she wore nail polish when a “little student nurse” came in and did her nails. A cat lover, she acknowledged the live-in cat but preferred the pictures of her own. Once an avid television person, she opted for live entertainment. When her wheelchair was traded for self-reliance, it was “Okay.” That attitude thing prevailed and endeared her to everyone throughout the 15 months she was there.
I noticed the chronic complainers who couldn’t be satisfied. I heard a family member of a patient say, “I’m getting my father out of here.” He had just been admitted that morning. Families mean well but I didn’t feel complaints should be made in front of a patient who is trying to adjust to a new living arrangement. When I had questions, I spoke with a supervisor in private. I regularly sent letters to staff expressing my thanks for the good care my mother received and on holidays brought sweets or some small thing just to let them know they were appreciated. Those letters were read at staff meetings to bolster morale so everyone with this tough job would know their efforts were not in vain.
For Mom’s last holiday the nursing home offered us a family dinner at the facility. On Thanksgiving Day we met in the Chapel. Our table looked as if we had set it at home. We had turkey with all the fixings including soup, and several kinds of dessert. The food was hot and delicious. The attentive staff’s efforts made our meal memorable. Six years later, I remember every detail of that meal.
Forty-eight hours before my mother’s death, a nurse telephoned. Aides bathed my mother and changed her nightdress as she slept deeply. Family stayed in shifts. Sleeping arrangements were made so two loving granddaughters could stay through the night hours. Her death was as peaceful as her life there.
Mom’s attitude of “I’ll make the best of it” made life easy on everyone. When it’s “I’m miserable” no one wins. A good attitude breeds cooperation. The staff had that with my mother and she spread that around when she encouraged others to eat their dinner while her own grew cold. So whenever I hear a complaint about a nursing home, I’m compelled to repeat my mother’s story and her message “It’s all about attitude.”