My Day at the Assisted Living Home


My Day at the Assisted Living Home

One of the amazing differences between animals and humans is our need to be able to receive and to extend the gift of love. We’ve seen mother cats feeding and cleaning their kittens, but that isn’t a human kind of love, it’s a natural animal act; it’s not a decision, simply nature acting itself out in a sweet kind of way. My cat Sherlock comes into my bedroom every morning at about 6:15 AM, jumps up on the bed, and curls up beside me in my arms. He stares at me and begins to purr as loud as a Rolling Stones concert. 

This isn’t the kind of love I’m talking about. He appreciates that he just finished a bowl of food and has a clean place to do his “sandbox duty.” Occasionally, he will try to tell me something. He jumps off the bed and looks back at me. I then say, “Lassie, is Timmy in the well again?” Then I follow him to an empty water dish or a request to go outside. 

This past Sunday, I spent four hours with my 97-year-old mother-in-law, who recently fell and fractured her pelvis. Spending time with someone of that age can be quite a lesson in patience. I can honestly say that while I consider myself a patient person, and many in my life would agree to that, I fail miserably in showing patience to her. 

We can say to someone, “I love you,” but if the scale of difficulty for complete love was based on 100, that verbal statement alone is only worth about 2 points.

On this particular visit, we drove up early on a Sunday morning to spend the day with her. I brought my computer with me, and we streamed our church service in her apartment at her assisted living home. I lost count of the number of times she complained about the sound of the pastor’s voice. I just kept saying this to her, “Mom, just listen to the words he is saying, not how he is saying it.” 

After hearing my own words as they replayed in my mind all day, I felt I needed to dive into that thought a little more. Was there more to what I said than I realized? We can say to someone, “I love you,” but if the scale of difficulty for complete love was based on 100, that verbal statement alone is only worth about 2 points. Anybody can form those three words. Actions make up the other 98 percent of the scale, and that’s where the difficultly comes in to play. 

How often do we focus on the loud noises but miss the entire point? Mom was focusing on the tone of the voice of an energetic passionate pastor, but she was missing the story that he was telling, the 98 percent. It can be a lonely and dangerous place to focus on the 2 percent. 

I’m currently reading While Time Remains, written by a young woman named Yeonmi Park. As a young woman, Park and her mother escaped the tyrannical regime of Kim Jung Il in North Korea. In North Korea, you only have to look at the full title of the “Dear Leader” to properly understand the narcissism that exists in a regime like that. 

It must be known that young school children in North Korea who cannot recite his official title when asked to are severely punished – along with their families. His title: General Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of Korea, President of the State Affairs of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. 

Now, that is a mouthful. That is the name of their Dear Leader who starves and abuses 21 million hopeless and helpless and wonderfully made citizens who were born into the wrong world. Also, note that using a variation of the word, Democracy, doesn’t make it one.

Throughout the day, woman equipped with walkers sporting yellow tennis balls as wheels, and women on electric scooters, saw the open door and mom in her chair, stopped by to tell mom that they were praying for her recovery. No “Hopes and Thoughts” for Mary, this is the generation that understands that we ourselves are not God-like. Our “Hopes and Thoughts” are powerless unless backed up by the one who gave us hopes and thoughts. I could do a reality show based on this assisted living facility called The Crown (made up name). 

In the Pilot for the series, I would introduce you to some of the cast (made up names of course):

Mary – (real name) My mother-in-law. Dutch immigrant, lived under occupation of Hitler, hid a Jewish boy named Nico in their attic during the war. Married a British soldier named Edmond who was raised in an orphanage in London. Moved to Chicago with her husband and two daughters to start a life in the U.S. Third daughter, Ruth, my wife, was born in Chicago.

Phyllis – Phyllis doesn’t talk. She walks around all day, rereading the same old People Magazines that sit on the tables. Curled inward like an abused golden retriever, there is a lonely woman in there who can’t get her thoughts out. Last week I gave her two homemade almond cookies and told her that she could eat one now and save one for after dinner. She gobbled the first one down in front of my eyes. I saw her again this past visit and I asked her how the cookies were, and she said, “Good.” That was the first time I ever heard Phyllis speak. In her mental capacity, Phyllis is unable to love the way we can, but she can and needs to be a receiver of love. 

Janice – Janice is a feisty one. I always ask her to keep down the noise with her boyfriend and she says every time, “I don’t have a boyfriend and you know it. You aren’t right in your head.” I say, “As if I didn’t already know that.” Her smoker’s voice makes me laugh as I consider the vastly different life my mother-in-law lived vs. Janice. My mother-in-law lived in a very conservative, religious community in Holland. I think Janice gives an excellent 98 percent. She dutifully loves Mom in words and action.

Grace – Grace is in a mental world of her own. On top of that, she has a disorder that causes her to move erratically non-stop. Grace sends her money to a man in LA that she thinks is coming to get her in order to live happily ever after with him. She has a picture of this “screen star” with her at all times. Grace dresses up each night and waits outside, no matter the weather, for him to fly in and rescue her. Sometimes I think Grace is the sanest person there, because inside of her clear dementia is an outstanding 98 percenter. She loves like I’ve never seen. A few weeks ago, after visiting mom, we were leaving and getting into the car when Grace walked up to say hello and ask didn’t we have time for her? As we began to drive away, I told Ruth that I needed to go back to properly say goodbye to Grace. We drove back to Grace where she stood waiting for her imaginary hero to arrive. I jumped out of the car and gave her a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and told her I loved her. She beamed as she received the missing 98 percent. She desperately was in need of human touch; we all are. 

The list could go on for pages, but as I have been reminded, this IS a parking magazine. We spend our lives flippantly using words that we don’t back up with actions. I used to tell my kids that if you were ever being charged with the crime of Love, would there be enough evidence to find you guilty? If anger shortly follows the words, “I love you,” are the words real or fabricated? We know in our knower what love really feels like. We know in our knower that while the marquee may say “I Love You” on it, the movie that plays out behind the title that drew us in takes a lot more than just acting. 

Yeonmi Park escaped from a living hell under the oppression of a Dear Leader who espoused love for his people, and made a promise to feed, care, educate, protect, and nurture them. Sadly, for the 21 million citizens that have been hoodwinked, his 2 percent can’t make a starving belly to feel full, except his own. 

In her book, Park warns us of the dangerous direction the United States appears to be moving in, towards radical socialism. She gives example after example of the systematic changes that she is seeing in our nation cloaked in hollow words, the easy 2 percent. Yeonmi has seen it from both sides. She’s heard the empty words from her Dear Leader as a child, and she now has the luxury of living within the 98 percent that defines historical America, not the unfolding America where everyone takes a side and we fight among ourselves. 

I coached our high school lacrosse team for many years, and I used to say, “Keep your head on a swivel!” That meant to look around and see both what harm is coming upon you, as well as what new opportunity to advance has opened up. 

We must keep our heads on a swivel in the world today, as well. Words are cheap and have little market value. When you’ve been properly loved, you’ll know it and three words alone can’t describe it.

Article contributed by:
Jeff Pinyot
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