May 29

Chronicle from the Old Folks’ Home—Part 7

In Brief—Not every day is the same. Some days are a little different. The author discusses some of those “different” days.

Over the Wall—

Sign (head-on)A death occurred in this department recently. The escapee was a sturdy ninety-two-year-old man who sat silently at the table in the day room a few days before he escaped the sameness.

A short time later, Berndt moved in to the now-vacant apartment. I was told that he had suffered a mild stroke, but it wasn’t apparent to me as I watched him explore his new surroundings. A big man of seventy-three, probably powerful once, he wandered about assessing the place. The next day, he ate his lunch at the same table as the man who escaped.

Meals are the main occurrence that breaks up the day for most of us in the Old Folks’ Home. I see the other residents waiting silently like expectant birds on a telephone line in their usual chairs for lunch to be served. I wave to them, they wave back. It’s a break in the monotony.

After only a few days, Berndt decided he wanted to go home, the home he had lived in for many years with his former wife. Since their divorce, he had lived alone and taken care of himself. Then a minor stroke intervened. His children quickly decided that the Old Folks’ Home was the place for him, and he was moved in with a few pieces of familiar furniture to make him feel comfortable. But it wasn’t home.

Berndt decided he wanted to go home. He took off his alarm bracelet, hid it and walked out of here. The problem was that his children had immediately put the house up for sale. It may be my cynicism, but the speed of the house being put on the market seems a little suspicious to me. Just a gut thing.

As soon as the personnel discovered that Berndt wasn’t here, they contacted the police. The police found him at home. On being returned here, Berndt plaintively asked, “Is this where I’m expected to die?”

The cheerful lady who often takes care of my needs angrily commented, “He could have been at home with Home Service to help him, but he was brought here.”

Humanity Again Shows Its Beautiful Face—

The same day, on my walk through the departments I saw the lovely 63-year-old woman with Sami (“Lapp”) features put a consoling hand on the arm of a crippled old woman. A relatively young Alzheimer’s resident in a lucid moment consoling a weeping crippled old woman. I almost cried. With all of my disabilities, I am one of the lucky ones.

My next-door neighbor, a spry man the same age as I, complains that nobody comes to see him. A ninety-year-old dementia resident who tests the patience of the personnel with her constant whines and demands melts and croons in delight when our family dog greets her and licks her hand. She ran a restaurant in Solefteå once. She was young and active once. All of us were. Now we’re here in the Old Folks’ Home.

I have written of the sameness of every day here in the Old Folks’ Home. This time was different. There was a ripple in the placid pond we live in…a ripple of humanity.

Update: Berndt has made two additional brief flights from the Old Folks” Home and both times has been returned by the police. The cheerful woman who takes care of my needs informed me that now that she has to put her enfeebled 91-year-old mother in an elder-care facility near here, Berndt has asked her if he can take over the mother’s apartment. Berndt doesn’t want to be here. He doesn’t belong here.


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  1. A lot of sameness and a lot of difference. Some are lucky to be there, some hate it. And most probably have no choice. Speaking from old age while still in my home I wonder what it would be like. When my grand mother was in an old folks home and we went regularly to visit I thought there were lots of interesting people. But I was a teenager and I didn’t have any responsibilities for any of that. And my mother spent every visit doing things for her and tsk tsking that things weren’t better there.. My grandmother, though, didn’t know much about what was happening anyway. Later my mom insisted on being in one, but wasn’t happy to be there. She just wouldn’t live with one of us.

    And you are staying mentally healthy, which must be the biggest issue. Keep on thinking and writing and your mind should reward you by staying healthy.

      • Don Bay on May 30, 2016 at 07:15

      So far so good. The brain is still woking, but I notice a bit of fuzziness lately. Anyway, I’ll keep cranking out the pieces until it doesn’t work any more.

      Although billions of humans have gone through this before we came along, for each of us it’s the first time. Until I got to the OFH and being old, it was impossible for me to imagine what it was like. I still can’t imagine what it will be like to never wake up…and at times I long for nothingness.

      I understand—intellectually, that is—why your mother didn’t want to live with her children (too much tsk, tsk, I suspect) and maybe she wanted to live in an OFH to avoid the stress it would cause others…or maybe another reason. Whatever the reason, we all have our own lives to live until the curtain comes down. Fingers crossed that the end is peaceful. Until then, make an effort to enjoy it.

    • Brenda on May 29, 2016 at 17:39

    Don, you are very observant, of course. Everything you have said is so true. Having directed senior programs in hospitals, I feel their pain. I loved my folks and they knew I did, thus the success of my programs. If only someone there could give Berndt the love he wants to feel and responsibility for some project of interest, he would settle down and enjoy the surroundings. As the story goes from one who is quite elderly, “look into my eyes; I was once ‘you'”

      • Don Bay on May 30, 2016 at 10:50

      I make an effort to pay attention. Bengt’s story is just one; the rest are hidden beneath the outer reality of dementia. It’s up to me to explore more than I have to find out what’s hidden away.

      As with your situation, there are programs offered to the patients here, but I am told that those programs are poorly attended. Most of the patients here are too far gone to be interested or even aware of the offered programs. I know that musicians from outside enjoy good attendance. Seems music is universal, even for those who are otherwise in another world. I hope your seniors (God, I hate that term) are more responsive than the folks who are here.

      Thanks for your comment and for giving me the chance to explain the Swedish way. My key frustration is not the lack of interest in the OFH programs but the refusal of readers to subscribe and get a heads-up when a new piece is released. Whether they comment as you have done, is entirely up to the readers. Thanks for subscribing and all you do.

  2. Brilliant writing and very touching. I want to reprint it word for word in the hyp news. May I

      • Don Bay on May 29, 2016 at 18:38

      Thanks for the strokes. Of course, you can reprint it word for word. It’s evidence that every day may be a little different here at the Old Folks’ Home.

    • Elodie on May 29, 2016 at 19:13

    Don, this was so sweet and sad and human. A fine piece of writing.

      • Don Bay on May 29, 2016 at 21:38

      All true, and again, thanks for the strokes. I’ll have to see if there’s more here that I’m missing. There are stories about these people that I need to piece together.

        • Elodie on May 31, 2016 at 03:22

        My mother (my parents were divorced) moved into a rather swanky assisted-living facility several years before she died. She had a beautiful, two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with a full kitchen. If she didn’t want to cook, there was fine dining in the dining room. Everyone was close to her age and economic status and, frankly, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to do that, too. It was like living in a hotel with maid service and everything you could imagine to keep you from being bored and/or isolated.

        When I got divorced and moved back home, I lived with my father. He did quite well during his income-producing days, and lived on a gorgeous 425-acre estate with rolling fields, hardwood forests and a lake. The house was 8,000 square feet. But he’d lived alone for a number of years. He was always somewhat antisocial and I could tell that his isolation was affecting his cognition. He was very depressed. He used to go off looking for one of his many dogs, climbing down into bayous and ravines and he refused to take a cellphone. Once he got disoriented and lost for over three hours.

        It used to drive me crazy. He’d always been independent and powerful and just wouldn’t admit that he should be more careful. I got one of those lifeline alert thingies to wear around his neck because he wouldn’t have a sitter and I worked at a gallery in town. He’d begun falling and couldn’t get up. I finally did manage to find the old fart a cute, sexy little sitter whom he enjoyed telling stories to and taking her around town to show her the little empire he’d accumulated.

        One morning I got up and came downstairs and went in to check on him and found him on the floor in the hallway between his bedroom and bathroom. He’d fallen in the night and I couldn’t hear his cries. Naturally, he hadn’t worn the life alert thingie. I called an ambulance and took him to the hospital. He lived about a week, falling deeper and deeper into dementia, which is so often the case with the elderly. He was just a few days’ shy of his 87th birthday.

        And THAT experience is one of the things that I think many children are afraid of when they place their loved ones in homes. Sometimes it’s impossible to have them move in with you. Personalities and family dynamics sometimes make that even more painful than a home. I wish my dad would’ve considered a home. He would’ve bitched about it, but being around people his own age, like my mother was, in an environment where they had meetings, went to plays and operas, had lecturers come in to talk about all kinds of interesting subjects — history, the arts, etc. — would’ve probably kept him more mentally alert and happier than he was at home. Although, I must say he dearly loved his land, his dogs, the deer he fed every afternoon…

        So, I dunno. It’s a tough decision all the way around.

        Here’s a little piece I wrote about him a few years before he died.

          • Don Bay on May 31, 2016 at 10:52

          You are right that it is normally a tough decision, Elodie. In Bengt’s case, however, it’s a little different. He is sane and not demented and is capable of caring for himself with some help from Home Service. When he is no longer capable, that is the time when an Old Folks’ Home is in order, not now.

          America is different in that money determines the level of comfort patients get. Here in Sweden, all the places I am acquainted with are much alike in the facilities and the services. The state subsidizes the care patents receive and the rent of the facilities. Unfortunately, Bengt was sent here too early in my estimation. He slipped through the cracks in an effort to care for him.

          A big question in my mind is…what happens in America to folks who can’t afford the prices too often accompanying assisted living facilities? Frankly, I believe Sweden’s answer is the more desirable one.

    • Bodil Halvarson on May 29, 2016 at 20:40

    Dear Friend Don! Thank you for writing about the women and men around you! I feel sorry for the man, Berndt, who doesn’t want to stay at the home, I wish I could help him to escape! It’s a very moving story and I think that the fact that you are there and that you know he doesn’t belong there helps him. I don’t know how, but there is a human being there that see him, and that is you.
    These early summer nights are so full of light, warmth and dreams. Escape nights! Though I hope Berndt will find peace in his heart, being able to settle there. It sounds frightening to be brought back by the police.
    I think you are the frequency holder there and that this fact means so very more than one can imagine. I think of you and am glad to receive your blog posts!

      • Don Bay on May 30, 2016 at 10:20

      Again, thanks for the ongoing support, Bodil. A few of us here—very few, actually—know what’s going on, but I have the good fortune of being able to use my little blog to tell outsiders my view of the truth. Yes, it’s a warehouse, but comfortable and a picture of the future as it unfolds.

      Bengt is one of us who just happens to be aware of what this is and is not yet ready to accept being here. I am here voluntarily. Bengt is not. Watching what I have seen so far reminds me that there are stories beneath the surface and I need to dig beneath the surface to get a glimpse of those stories. I hope I can succeed.

    • Donna on May 30, 2016 at 03:57

    Poor Berndt! – was there really no way he could have stayed in his own home? Evidently his family didn’t think so. Similar situations exist in this country too, of course, although the cost of being in assisted living or a nursing home motivate some families to keep the elderly person in their family at home as long as possible.

    I recall my dad, that I visited in his retirement home after a mild stroke. He was in the nursing home part of the housing complex (they didn’t have assisted living) and when he felt better, really wanted to return to his apartment. After a day or two there, he decided that he couldn’t live on his own and returned to the nursing home. It was a difficult choice for him, but at least he made the choice.

    I’m glad you are so observant and that you are able to write about what you see in such a great way.

      • Don Bay on May 30, 2016 at 09:51

      Did your dad really have a choice or did expediency come into the picture? Bengt didn’t really have a choice. His children and a small stroke (I have been told) made the choice for him. My gut tells me that the children really made the choice, and the house was worth a nice piece of change. Maybe not.

      At any rate, Bengt didn’t want to be here, and the woman who feeds me was angry that he didn’t get to stay at home and have the social services come in to help him when needed. In any case, after two failed escape attempts, Bengt now seems to be resigned to being here in the OFH. Stay tuned.

      Thanks for the pat on the back. It’s an incentive to scrape away at the surface to see what’s underneath the obvious. I’ll start scraping, Donna.

    • Susan on May 30, 2016 at 19:15

    I’m starting a petition for Berndt.
    Berndt needs to be released!
    Sign if you agree.

    1. Susan Harris California

      • Don Bay on May 31, 2016 at 07:06

      Your heart is in the right place, Susan. Bengt (his name is false to protect his privacy) seems to be adapting. Maybe “getting resigned” is a better way to put it.

      I have a suspicion that Bengt himself would have to initiate proceedings to get released. Having very little knowledge of Swedish law, I am not in a position to know whether your idea will have any effect.

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      • Don Bay on June 14, 2016 at 11:08

      As I said to Yvette, welcome to my blog. I publish a piece every week on a variety of subjects, so I suggest you read my reply to Yvette.

    • Yvette on June 14, 2016 at 07:29

    Its like you read my mind! You seem to know so
    much about this, like you wrote the book in it or something.
    I think that you can do with a few pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is great blog.
    An excellent read. I will definitely be back.

      • Don Bay on June 14, 2016 at 11:04

      Welcome to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. I have lived in the Old Folks’ Home for a year, so I know a bit about it. Feel free to comment on any of the pieces I write. They’re not just about old folks but about politics, religion. justice, food, animals, books, movies…well, anything that grabs me. You can subscribe on the right side of the home page to get a heads-up every week when a new piece is published. Spamming is prohibited, by the way. As I say, Welcome.

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