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September 16, 2012, Sunday

Nursing homes seem bad and good

Sam Foss wrote the words, “Let me live in my house by the side of the road and be a friend to man.”

Foss, who passed away in 1911, was an American librarian and poet whose works included “The House by the Side of the Road” and “The Coming American.”

Since the early 1900s, the idea of socialization has changed around the world. Friendship and neighborliness is still important, but how one goes about these things has changed. In the building where I live, I sometimes meet by chance some of the elderly female residents, around the garden or in the main corridor, and we exchange pleasantries. They are among those fortunate enough to own their own homes and who are still able to live alone. I have noticed that some of them have relatives come and check on them and visit with them.

In the rural areas of Turkey the extended family usually lives together or in very close proximity, but in major cities the children marry and live in their own homes. Often the home is near to where their parents live, or can be reached in a reasonable time. In Turkey, folks stay in close touch by telephone.

It is inevitable that as you grow older you will probably have fewer friends.

Although I like to visit the elderly, I always feel sad afterward, as they are at an age when some are utterly friendless. Many have been alive long enough that their friends have, as we say in English, died off. Now, they may have regular visits from a niece, daughter or other relative, but in some cases, when the family relations are not close, they can have infrequent or no visitors. I have noticed in my neighborhood that neighbors do watch out for their elderly non-relative neighbors, from a distance. I see them chatting with the elderly person in the corridor or from the balcony or through the window. I have noticed that many elderly people sit by their windows and look out.

I learned something very simple but profound in a course on death and dying that I took a few years ago. For many elderly people it is the little things that can mean a lot. Recently, I was reminded of this truth as I sat with my friend in her mom's hospital room. I watched the dear elderly women's face light up as her daughter started to talk about childhood times and recall verses of Scripture memorized long ago, in the days of Sunday school. I had to hold back tears. I witnessed her dear mom for a few moments forget her pain and discomfort and her fear of the unknown ahead. Her dear mom was momentarily smiling and happy. It does not take much for elderly people to forget what is ahead and rejoice in the moment. Love cares -- this is a universal truth. William H. Ammon wrote the poem “Allow”:

It seems so hard at times to hear,

The pain in the heart of one so dear.

He tries so hard to make it clear,

All I can do is shed a tear.

No matter what my confusion be,

My care allows him to share with me.

He'll thank me when my visit ends,

And say I've been a very good friend.

But all I did was allow him vent,

That was enough for him, I was heaven sent.

Perhaps you have heard the expression, “He died friendless and penniless.” Though overall the global economy may be experiencing some slow growth, due to the past few years of the economic crisis, nowadays many are becoming penniless as well as friendless. This is especially true back in the United States, where people can't afford health care. The health care industry has done all it can to put unwell people in a situation where they have to rob Peter to pay Paul. These days, with the change in social and demographic trends in Turkey, families in urban areas are having to reconsider a family alternative to hospice care.

I am going to be writing about this more in the future, and about how the situation is changing in Turkey. I have noticed around İstanbul more and more hospice facilities are opening. A nursing facility can be a discouraging place when you are surrounded by other folks who are in poor condition; however, the other side of the coin is to be thankful that there are facilities to care for the elderly if staying at home is impossible for them.

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