By Marian Glaser ©
I worked with sick people for ten years
washing mess, vomit from failing bodies
as beyond control as when they were babies,
helping them to eat, dress, walk,
trying to help them remember their humanity.
I didn’t know that this world existed until my mother entered it
and I visited.
My life had been lived in an orderly environment
where raised voices quickly dissolved into laughter
and returns to desks laden with insurance policies
vaguely pointing to a life.
I had assumed a nursing home was
a bright, happy place, filled with friendships.
I found people yelling,
dirt, hatred, madness.
When she died I vowed to try
to make other residents a bit happier.
I think I did.
I was also given much.
One man taught me how to look through a camera lens
and only get those flowers or faces
I wanted in my photographs.
I’ve seen other old faces drop twenty years
because they felt needed briefly,
they were absorbed in something other than their pain or
they had received an unexpected act of kindness.
Now I am a resident myself.
Hear voices, a doctor and nurse,
discussing me as if Harry had been replaced
by a breathing object not worth notice.
It’s hard to resist the wish to let go and be that nonentity,
easily worked with since no human needs need be met.
To hear them and others and believe is
to equate old age with neurons dying, intelligence diminishing,
experiences accumulated over a lifetime