I remember when I was a very little girl, that I used to go to visit my grandma Mary in the nursing home. She was actually my great-grandmother, my mother's grandmother, but we called her "Grandma Mary." I would visit her in her room, and she would always send me away with some little possession of hers.
My grandparents did not have a good opinion of nursing homes. They didn't say much about them, but it was clear that they did not have a good opinion of them. My grandfather said once that the nursing home is where you go to die.
Now I go to nursing homes with some regularity. Sometimes I go to do a church service, to play the piano and read scripture and pray with the residents. Sometimes I go to bring communion or visit. Some of the people I visit are temporary residents, doing therapy, and others are there permanently.
Whenever I go, I always look around, to see what signs of home they have chosen to decorate their home. I look at the pictures of children and grandchildren, the quilt folded on the edge of the bed, the needlepoints on the wall. I visited one woman who had a big easy chair in the corner of her room, and a stack of daily papers neatly in one corner. She still read the morning paper every day, and her little room was more like a studio apartment.
Except that it was a nursing home.
Another woman had a whole shelf of toys, most of them gifts that people would drop off for her. It seemed to me that she had every single singing stuffed toy on the market, including a stuffed walleye that sang Doobie Brothers songs. Everyone loved to stop by her room and play, except on the days when another of her roommates would get sick, and die.
Just before Christmas I visited another woman in her room. Her wall was plastered with pictures of her children, as well as glittery Christmas decorations. Another woman had a lot of her hand-made hardangar on the wall. We always had good visits, once she remembered who I was.
My husband says this is not normal, but I will on occasion make a statement about my possessions, something on the order of "this is something I would probably take with me to 'the home'." He says that I am far too young to be thinking about things like this. I don't know why I do. I think about what it will be like sometime, to live in a little room, to have a smaller life. I think about what is most important now, what will be most important then. Will it be reading the daily newspaper, or hearing music, or keeping a favorite picture? Will I even be able to see the favorite picture?
I don't know why I think about it My husband thinks it's unusual. I have a skewed view.
Maybe it goes all the way back to when I was a little girl, and my great-grandmother gave away something every time I visited her. She had just a few things left, but she was giving them away -- a handkerchief here, a stuffed toy there.
It was like she was giving away her life.
That's what it was: odd but true.
Our lives are not ours to keep, only to give away.