There was a time in my life when my stomach would sink walking into a nursing home. My visits to the "old folks home" as a child were limited. My Sunday school teacher in fifth grade took us to visit residents, and I was terribly uncomfortable while there. The smell bothered me, the bony fingers that wanted to touch us frightened me. None of my grandparents were in a facility before they passed, so most of my experiences were visits with Billy's mom, Aleta Asher. She was in a two different facilities through the duration of her disease, and I grew a bit more comfortable in that setting but not completely. I didn't visit often enough to grow accustomed to the strangeness of the behaviors.
As we approach a full year with Billy living in Lexington Place, I can say I'm okay there. The residents in the memory unit know me. I can handle the noises, the blank stares, the mumbled utterances, the random cursing, the occasional choking and the lack of respect for personal space. What I will never grow accustomed to is the death that comes with this disease. The unit has 9 rooms - 18 beds. I know the residents and their rooms. As I walk down the hall, I can see them if they are in their beds, and today I saw a bed missing. The name was removed, and I couldn't place who had been there. I asked the nurse whose bed was gone, and he told me it was Betty.
"When?" I asked, and Raymond answered, "Today. It was so hard to see."
In truth it's been difficult to watch Betty in the last few months. She's been terribly sad since she could no longer walk. Those of you who have followed me a while may remember that I referred to her as walking Betty. She walked up and down the hall for hours a day. She was a beautiful statuesque lady with porcelain skin and thick silver hair. I heard her speak a handful of times, but I heard her scream and saw her cry many more times as the disease ravaged her ability to walk, her desire to eat, and finally her life.
I hate Alzheimer's Disease. It's a disease where you watch your loved one die going backwards from adulthood to adolescent to childhood and back to being a baby who needs to be fed and bathed and diapered. I hope it's a long while before I notice that another bed is gone.