The Circle of Life

My 93-year-old mother lives in an assisted living facility that is around the corner from where my daughter and her family live. Because they are in such close proximity, my daughter and her family walk over to visit Gran fairly often.  My four- year-old granddaughter, Loretta, is both smart and observant; however, she hasn’t been told much about my mother’s declining health. My daughter is smart about how she interacts with her children and she fosters curiosity and independence in them, which carries over to how they see the world. Regarding my mom’s aging, we have answered the questions Loretta has had along the way and have explained things that are age related. For instance, we have said that sometimes when people get older, they have trouble hearing so it is important to look at Gran when you ask her a question and talk a little louder.  But, over the past three years, Loretta has watched while my mother went from being able to walk without aid, to having a walker, to spending most of the day in a wheel chair.

Recently my mother was found on the floor during the evening bed check. Concerned that she might be hurt, the nurse called the ambulance and we took her to the hospital. Miraculously, she was not hurt. She is tiny, maybe 4’8” tall, weighing 98 pounds, with a prosthetic hip that is not secure in place anymore, and severe osteoporosis. How she didn’t break anything in the fall is beyond any of us. We were in the ER all night long while she slept and we waited for the results of tests, but in the end, she was sent home. Miraculous.

Today Hubby and I took Loretta and her little brother to visit my mother and Loretta had a lot of questions about the fall.

“D” Loretta and her brother call me D and they call my husband Pop—“How did Granny fall?”

“You know, Loretta, we just don’t know.”

“Well, who found her??

“The nurse found her. She went in the room to check on her and she found her.”

“She just went in the room? Why?”

“Well, I think the nurses go in every night to check on all the people who live where Gran lives.”

“Did the nurse knock?”

“ Yes, I am sure she knocked, but she also probably went in after she knocked.”

We had the conversation a whole bunch of times, probably at least six different times, and it was essentially the same conversation each time. I could tell there was something she needed for the story to make sense to her but I wasn’t sure what. I am convinced that little kids experience a lot more than we realize, that they process a lot of loss in their lives, but that most grown ups just don’t pay enough attention to get it. 

When we visit my mom with the kids in tow, we don’t visit in her room, but in a common area that is called the Country Kitchen. We bring a sheet and put in on the ground and we have a picnic lunch. Part of the “lunch” is made of play food that Loretta packs from home. This day it included pasta made from a felt material and plastic broccoli. To supplement what Loretta brought, I packed apple slices and humus. So there we were, my mother, my husband, the kids and me picnicking while Loretta was trying to gather the details of my mother’s fall.  At one point, I decided that maybe what was needed was a replay of what might have happened, so I took Loretta to my mom’s room and I asked her if she wanted to see how I think it might have gone. She eagerly nodded yes.

“Okay,” I said. “You wait in the room and I will go outside and I will be the nurse.”

I closed the door and then a moment later I knocked, and then entered as though I were the nurse checking on my mother.

“Hello, Anne, I just wanted to……oh my goodness, Anne!!! What are you doing on the floor!!! Oh, no!!!”

Then I turned to Loretta and said, “I am sure that what the nurse did after that was call the other nurse to come and wait with Gran while she called the ambulance. Like this, “Bea!!! Bea!!! Come quickly and stay with Anne! I am going to call the ambulance.”

I watched to see if this scenario was helping Loretta process the incident.

“Why didn’t she pick Gran up herself?” she asked after pondering the skit.

“Well, that’s a good question. The nurse didn’t pick Gran up herself because she wasn’t sure if Gran was hurt or not. If someone falls and gets hurt, you need to have special training to pick them up. The ambulance people have the special training, so she called them.”

“Oh. Was she hurt?” Loretta asked.

“No. It is hard to believe, but she wasn’t hurt.”

“But HOW did she fall?”

“We don’t know.”

“Was she trying to get to her walker and she fell?”

“Maybe, we just don’t really know for sure.”

This seemed to answer all of the questions for the time being. We visited with my mom for quite a while, making her pretend pasta for lunch. We served the pretend pasta with a side of real sliced apples and, in between culinary courses, we blew bubbles and danced and played. I was pretty sure that the conversation had run its course when all of a sudden Bea, one of the heroines in my skit, showed up. I took the opportunity to co-opt Bea into our conversation.

“Bea” I said, “Loretta and I were talking about the other night and we were just wondering if the nurses check on people every night.”

Bea, who caught on immediately, assured us, “Every night. We do what is called bed check every night. We check every room so that we know everyone is okay.” Bea is a dark woman, maybe 40 years old, with a smile that beams like sunshine. Her spirit is calm and welcoming, so talking to her is always reassuring to me.

Our family is at a pretty critical point in the circle of life. We are watching my mother, the last of her seven siblings; approach the end of her life, while my children are bringing new babies into the world. These new babies keep us on our toes. If you are not paying attention, you can miss the magic in conversations like the one Loretta and I had today. You’ll catch those typical milestones, the rolling over, the walking, the talking and all of that, but you will miss the magic of a child giving you a glimpse into the window of their world. And there is so much for us to learn if we pay attention and look at the world through a child’s eyes.

“But, D!!! ” I hear her little voice call me between eating slices of apple dipped in hummus.  “Where do the ambulance people live?”

Sigh.