Ravages of old age can be painful to watch

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, April 15, 2009

I stepped into the spotless corridors of the rest home; everything was in its proper place, the sparkling tile floors winked at our intrusion.

But only the bent bodies and broken hearts of the aged greeted me. I looked into the blank eyes of one whose mind had already taken leave of her body.

Yes, father time had cut down the curvaceous, sparkling-eyed daughters and the once quick-witted handsome sons of man, until only a shell remained.

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The motionless form of the paraplegic woman, the somber face of her one determined husband told how lives once charged with energy and emotion had slipped away in a few short years.

They rest alone, powerless, in their small room, without benefit of conversation, afraid breaking the silence may trigger more disasters in an already uncertain existence. I see patients wandering about, exploring neighbor’s rooms, some pick imaginary lent or undetectable vermin off their gowns and clothing.

Some scream unintelligent phrases, they, themselves don’t understand. The loud and silent live here. My heart ached with compassion; I was powerless to do anything to relieve their confusion. If only I could turn back the pages of time to a happier atmosphere, and restore their health.

This is their new home, but it lacks the familiar smell and touch of home. They were brought here to recuperate from the disabilities of aging, and then returned home after a brief convalescence.

They eat and sleep when told. They never leave these premises unless signed out by a responsible relative, for a short walk, that goes nowhere.

A faint memory of a happier life, tugs at their minds until the realities of their condition jolt them back to the present. Can anything be worse than this lonely existence? Oh, God, their plight is too harsh!

Mom lies motionless, while out in the hall dad asked a busy aide, “where do I go now?” She tells him to have a seat along the wall until she catches up on her work.

I wonder how long he had stood silent, exhausted, until someone led him back to his room and beloved wife, a few doors down the hall?

I’ve seen his melancholy shuffle. I watched them carry her from a bed of stained linen, to get her hair done, while nurses, aides and maintenance personnel moved about swiftly, tending to the rigorous duties of their profession.

We are dumfounded by this scene of senility, unable to understand these dreadful conditions, nor accept this doleful reality.

We smell the stench of waste and the rotting flesh of our parents; their beautiful faces have become a grotesque mask of pain and confusion, as they stare endlessly into a fog bank of faded memories.

Often they view us as liberators, come to free them from captivity. Other times as doctors come to heal their sickness and bind up their open bedsores. But in our frailty, we languish between dread and helpless anxiety, we are unable to better their condition.

Their minds are locked in a maze of festering years, unable to cope or distinguish the past from the present. Yes, they are old, the golden years have not been kind, eroded minds and bodies hide their identity from the prying eyes of society.

Visitations become shorter and farther apart. The children find activities to keep them away, divorcing themselves from the agonizing conditions of old age. We haven’t forgotten our parents, but reality is so hard.

We deeply appreciate their demonstration of love in its purest human form. But, don’t know what to do. We feel ashamed and condemned, because we are helpless to heal their broken hearts, nor can we reverse this trend of continual sorrow.

Donald E. Frazee is a retired Ironton resident.