The Activity Room

Beth studied her index finger pointed toward the ceiling. There was a long silence as she tried to remember why she was doing this. Her daughter Ellen glanced up from her knitting and frowned.

“What are you doing Mum?”

Beth lowered her finger and glanced toward the doorway. The cleaning crew were giving the corridor a once over and the racket diverted her from her attempt to remember what she’d been pointing at. She shrugged and asked her recurring question. “Is it time for the program yet?”

“No Mum, you have to wait another thirty minutes before we wheel you over to the activity room.”

“What time is it?

“Its only half past one, the room’s locked Mum”

“Everyone will be in there and there won’t be room for my chair!” Beth pouted.

“Don’t worry, we’ll take you there as soon as the room’s opened,” piped in Jack who’d been sitting watching the drama.

Every visit was the same. Beth loved the activity room where they had their art lessons and a variety of interesting activities for those unfortunate enough to be confined to a high level care nursing home. Her life now revolved around these activities and visits were an interruption to this routine. However, should we miss a visit for some reason this would be noted and the next visit would find us in deep trouble and on the defensive.

“You never come to visit me,” Beth would grumble testily. “No one comes to visit me!”

“Of course they do! You get lots of visitors.” Ellen rolled her eyes impatiently. She then listed the visitors and days of their visits, but Beth remained unconvinced.

‘I think there’s a bit of manipulation going on here,” muttered Ellen.

She sighed. This was not her Mother any more. Someone had snatched away the essence and left a shell, recognizable on the outside but totally unfamiliar on the inside. However something drew her back time and again to try and find where her Mother had gone. She tried to draw out the elusive essence through memory exercises. These included endless pointing to photos of family covering the wall of Beth’s room. Beth struggled to put names to faces, and occasionally got one right. The photo of her with her daughters was wrongly thought to be her own Mother who she remembered with a flash of anger. Ellen gasped in surprise.

The previous evening Ellen and Jack had left Beth’s room to return to their apartment just as another daughter phoned to see how Mother was progressing. Kate had phoned Ellen afterward chuckling.

“Mum asked me when I was coming to see her again and I told her I’d be able to visit her again at Christmas. Do you know what she said? She told me two funny children had just been to see her and I should come up and meet them. I told Mum I’d already met them.” Kate laughed. “Did you know you and Jack are funny children?”

Ellen smiled ruefully. “I guess we must appear that way to her. We try and make her laugh as that’s better therapy than sympathy. Most times it works, but you have to be careful with humour as it can be misunderstood by an eighty seven year old.”

It had only taken a few seconds for Ellen to recall, but she was jolted out of her thoughts by the recurring question.

“What time is it? We’ll be late for the program!”

“Only fifteen minutes to go Mum. Don’t worry; we’ll take you to the program at two O’clock.”

“Are you coming to the program?” Beth asked warily.

“No Mum, we’re going home to have lunch.”

“Who will take me to the program? Don’t leave me here by myself!” Beth’s eyes widened in fear as she glanced round the unfamiliar visiting room.

“We’ll take you to the activity room at two O’clock and then go eat lunch,” said Jack. He glanced at his watch and turned to Ellen who was staring at her Mother uncomprehendingly.

“But I’ve had lunch,” said Beth.

“No, we are going to have lunch,” said Jack

“I think we can take her to the activity room, they should be delivering the rest of the residents there by now.” Jack released the chair brakes while Ellen gathered up her knitting.

Ellen wheeled her Mother to the activity room and Beth’s face registered the pleasure of association with familiar territory.

Beth removed her purse from the side of the chair and began a routine inventory of her remaining movable assets as she waited for the program to commence. She’d temporarily erased her visitors and inserted the disk marked “program” in her tired and worn mind. Ellen and Jack were free to leave now.

On the way out they passed room after room of unfortunates whose spirit had already departed and left their bodies to lie at rest before rejoining that spirit at some future point in time. They lay in grotesque positions, some with mouth wide open and eyes staring, some curled in the foetal position they’d favoured before their entry into the world at birth. Nurses paused to smooth their pillows, gently wipe away tears or feed those who could not help themselves.

Jack paused to watch one of the nurses. “I’ve seen angels at work,” he murmured softly with conviction.

Ellen nodded in agreement. “I wish I could find my real Mother again,” she murmured.

“© Copyright Ian Grice 2011 All rights reserved”

9 Comments Add yours

  1. jamesfee1 says:

    You had the living experience of the answer to my question. I am not sure if I really wanted to know that answer. But, knowing is still the best thing for ones own piece of mind. It puts in place one more “piece of the puzzle” about the ending process of human living.
    Jim the Fee

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  2. Apparently there are moments when those who have “lost it” realize the condition they are in. My Father lost his reasoning powers toward the end and one day he was staying at my brother’s home to give my sister a break. My brother heard a scream from the bathroom and the family rushed in to see what was the matter. Dad was staring into the mirror saying “What happened to the great Eric G?” He had been a state champion bowler, been very successful in business and politics. He must have realized through the fog that his days of glory were now gone. It was a sad experience for all of us watching on.

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  3. jamesfee1 says:

    Hi Ian, powerfully written! I wonder if that is the greatest “fear” that lurkes deeply buried in our unconscius mind, that fear of losing or “mentality” at the end? I think that it is mine as I sit here at 83.
    I suspect from what i have seen of others who have passed into that stage in the process that the one who has “lost” their awarness are not even aware of it – that the ones who are aware, and secreatly fearful, are the onlookers; the family members and the institutions
    caregivers. The paid caregivers are the ones who must feel this fear deep down inside everyday when they show up for work. Or, do they have some kind of coping mechanism that kicks-in when they show up on the job> I don’t know on this one!! Jim the Fee

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  4. susan says:

    Wonderfully poignant….I love your stories of life Ian.

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    1. Life has many faces Susan, and at one time or another in our life we see all these faces don’t we?

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  5. Mumsy says:

    Well written but very sad. Hugs

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    1. Yes I used to find the situation of people in high level care disturbing and sad too.

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  6. LOS says:

    Old, senile parents really need the love and care of their children.
    Great story. It makes me sad.

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    1. Yes, I agree with you. Love is the only help we can give people at this stage of their life.

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