Several years ago I was watching a morning program with CEO Bobbi Brown who was discussing her cosmetics. The host asked her a question about the use of cosmetics. I remember Brown responding, “At some point you need to come to terms with how you look.” I thought that was disappointing, but refreshing, especially coming from the CEO of a cosmetics company. What do you mean your makeup can’t make me look like a supermodel??? Brown’s point was that you need to work with what you have and make the best of it. Furthermore, she wasn’t making empty promises about what cosmetics could do.
When I worked in a nursing home, there was a particularly angry woman who lived there. She was angry that her daughter “put her” there. The resident had forgotten that she had been living in imperfect conditions before coming to the top-rated facility. She’d forgotten that she was particularly nasty to her daughter who subsequently did not want to take care of her at home. She forgot how bad her health really was. All that she could remember was that life was very unfair so she was hostile.
On New Year’s Eve we hosted a fairly lavish party with great food, live band, and an activity room that was transformed into Las Vegas with giant cardboard designs, glamour and glitz. I sat down at her table when it was done and asked, “So, did you have fun?” “No,” she answered in a what-are you-stupid? tone. “What’s fun about this?” I listed the many bullet points of fun to her unresponsive face. She said, “You get to go home now. I have to stay here.”
“You’re right,” I said. “I do get to go home. It is my time in life to do that. I have young children and a career. I am supposed to do that now. You had your time to do all of that. Someday I will live in a place like this. But now you live here. At some point you need to accept that. You’re making yourself miserable in not accepting it.” It was not a pep-talk and I didn’t promise her that she would come to love living there.
Over the next few months before she died, I found her more approachable as long as I spoke her language. “What the hell do you want?” she asked me when I came into her room one evening. I said, “If you’re going to swear at me, would you mind if I turned on the lights because I need to talk to you about taking a bus trip out of here for a few hours.” I could get her to smile a little whenever I allowed her to be a bear because she appreciated my efforts to try to cheer her up and would thank me. But I don’t think she ever really accepted where she was in life on any level. It’s a shame because it prevented her from making connections with others and keeping her days interesting. I realize it is easy for me to be critical from my perspective but I have seen so many people make the transition to nursing home life that I know it can be done. Everyone wants to age at home but not everyone can. I might go kicking and screaming into a nursing home someday but I hope I will come to terms with it and make the best of what life has left for me.