KOH2RVA: Day 112

snow-covered-fieldDo you know that song, “Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go”? Yesterday that’s what I did with my family, except we went over the mountain and through the woods to grandmother’s nursing home.

On a good day it’s about a three-hour drive from Richmond to Franklin, West Virginia, and yesterday was a good day. My daughter Ellie is visiting from New York and Catherine is home for her winter break. We all piled into the car yesterday morning (along with Ellie’s two dogs) and headed for the hills.

We had plenty to talk about on the way, and as we got off the Interstate and into the country there was plenty to see. There was snow on the ground! The roads were clear but the fields on both sides were glazed like a Krispy Kreme doughnut. Ellie saw a horse-drawn Amish buggy whizzing down the road. Catherine saw a deer head hanging from a tree (yikes!). We went over Shenandoah mountain through so many hairpin curves that everybody began to feel a little queasy, but from the top the views were breathtaking.

When we finally got to Franklin we were dismayed to learn that the entire nursing home was under quarantine because of the flu, and were told at the front desk that we wouldn’t be able to visit my parents. I said, “But I called yesterday! But we just drove three hours! But my daughter has come from New York!” And while I was protesting the director of nursing happened along and said that my mother, at least, wasn’t showing any symptoms and could come to the family room for a visit.

So, that’s what we had: a two-hour visit with my mother, who entertained us the whole time. She had us laughing like a stand-up comedian. When it was time to go I asked if we could walk around to the side of the building and at least wave to my dad through the window. One of the nurses said she would go to his room and open the curtain. So, off we went, hiking around the side of the nursing home through ankle-deep snow.

As we went Christy reminded the girls of those days when they used to visit the nursing home in Wingate, North Carolina, where we lived at the time. She would take them to be “spirit lifters,” and Ellie, at least, spent a lot of time painting fingernails, which the ladies there seemed to love.

I thought about how that was one more way of bringing heaven to earth. Long before our year-long, every-member mission trip to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Richmond, Virginia, Christy and the girls were figuring out that when one person shares the love of Christ with another heaven touches down—however briefly–wherever you are.

And that’s what we had with my dad yesterday: a very brief moment.

The nurse pulled back the curtain and the four of us stood at the window to see Dad, lying in his bed, smiling up at us. Just because it seemed like the thing to do I began to sing, “We wish you a merry Christmas,” and the family joined in, and then, to our surprise, we could see Dad joining in, singing along with us. The nurse opened his window just a crack so we could hear him and he could hear us, and when we were finished singing we told him that we loved him and blew kisses and waved goodbye.

That was it.

That was all the nurse had time for but probably all my dad had strength for. He’s very weak these days. And to leave him with the image of four impromptu carolers wishing him a merry Christmas and a happy new year was probably about the best we could have done.

And so we drove back to Richmond, satisfied by the visit, having brought the Kingdom of Heaven a little closer to Franklin, West Virginia.

Today, I’m back in this city I love, wondering how I can be a “spirit lifter” here. What about you? Is there somebody whose spirit you can lift, even if you have to go over the river and through the woods to do it?

Transitions

On Tuesday of this week, my brother Gray helped get my dad into a nursing home.  It’s been a long struggle.  For the past three-and-a-half years Dad has suffered from severe anxiety and depression, lying on the couch during the day and tossing and turning at night.  It’s such a change from the man I’ve always known, who was optimistic, energetic, and enthusiastic, ready to change the world or chop a load of firewood, whichever was needed most.  We’re not really sure what happened.  My mom thinks it started when he stripped a piece of furniture and spent three weeks in the presence of those strong fumes.  The doctors disagree, and they’ve experimented with a raft of psychotropic drugs.  Nothing seems to help. 

And so Dad went to the hospital last week mostly because he lacked the will to get out of bed.  Mom called the doctor, who suggested that they meet him at the hospital.  After four days there, and a full battery of tests, a nursing home seemed like the best option.  My brother Gray, who lives in the same town (and who has been absolutely heroic in the care of my parents) sent this message to his five brothers at the end of  a long day on Tuesday:

Dear Brothers,

Today was a good day.

I picked up Dad and Mom from the hospital at about 2:00 and drove them to the nursing home. We were warmly greeted by a number of friendly staff members and taken immediately to Dad’s room. While the nurses went through the check-in process and helped Dad unpack, I took Mom for a tour, including a stop by the ice cream parlor where she made Dad an ice cream cone. By the time we got back, Dad was all settled in. I left Mom to visit with Dad, went and did all the paperwork and then dashed back to the office for a meeting. When I returned around 5:30, Mom was all smiles and Dad seemed totally content.

Dad’s is sharing a room with a very sweet and alert 90 year old man who worked in the CCC camps during the Great Depression and later served in the Navy. His sister and brother were visting from out of town and were very reassuring about what a nice place this nursing home is. That was really encouraging to all of us.

All of the staff that we worked with, or just bumped into while we were touring around, were super nice, cheerful and patient. A nurse and a physical therapist got a complete run-down on Dad’s medications, medical history, and current physical condition. I think Dad appreciated the professionalism and it probably didn’t hurt that they were both young, pretty, and sweet.

Mom was absolutely thrilled. She couldn’t believe what a nice place it was and that we could actually afford it. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see so pleased with our choice. She had been really determined to go the Presbyterian Home and I was afraid that she wouldn’t like any other option.

When we left the nursing home, Mom and I spent about 45 minutes practicing how to get to there. (It’s only a mile or so away from one of the hospitals that she has been to repeatedly, so we just had to practice on that small stretch of unfamiliar road.) It was cute. A lot like giving driving lessons to your teenager.  After a few tries, she seemed to have it down pat.

I think it will be a couple of weeks before we really  have a feel for how this is going to work, but like I said, it was a very good day.

With love,

Gray

Anyone who has helped a parent into a nursing home knows what a difficult decision it can be, and how many emotions are attached to that move.  I’m surprised by how grateful and relieved I feel at the moment.  Maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet.  Maybe it will.  But for now I’m simply thankful that such a good place exists, and that my dad is there.

And that my mom can bring him an ice cream cone.