The “For Sale” sign outside my grandmother’s house caught me by surprise last Saturday.
I got out of my car, gathered up my overnight bag, my laptop and the food I had brought for our Mother’s Day weekend celebration, and tried to process this new development.
It wasn’t exactly a surprise. My grandmother is 85. The last time I visited, she said she was thinking of checking herself into the “old folks’ home.” I didn’t really take her seriously, but I didn’t exactly not take her seriously. She is still in the sprawling house where my dad and his five siblings grew up. Now it’s just my grandmother and my aunt living there and it’s unquestionably a lot of house for the two of them.
I went inside and greeted my grandmother and other family members. No one was talking about the “For Sale” sign. No one seemed troubled at all. This struck me as ominous. I decided not to ask about it, not yet.
Of course, as I talked to my dad and grandmother about a recent trip I took to St. Louis, my mind was elsewhere. Flash forward to Mother’s Day 2014. Would I be having this conversation with my grandmother in her new digs in an assisted living community? Flash forward a few more years, would I be visiting her in the nursing home?
Needless to say, given what I write about every day, I wasn’t exactly freaking out at the mere thought that my 85-year-old grandmother might move into a nursing home. But I was caught off guard by seeing the “For Sale” sign, and in that moment when my professional life McKnight’s writer was coinciding with this potential change in my own family, I wasn’t thinking about the most recent long-term care news stories I’d written, or any of the recent interviews I’d done or studies I’d looked at. I was actually thinking of a short story by the writer Peter Ho Davies, “Today is Sunday.”
I’m recommending the story, but here’s a warning: It’s not exactly a feel-good yarn. But it’s not a total downer, either.
Here’s the scenario: A man in England goes to a nursing home to visit his mother, who has dementia. The man’s son is along on the trip, and he narrates the story. He’s disturbed at the sight of his grandmother:
“Inside, we find her in a corner of the lounge, so shrunken and slumped that I hardly recognize her. Her head lolls back against her chair, too heavy for her creased, deflated neck, and she peers at us damply from hooded eyes.”
A few lines later, the narrator’s father says, “Promise me … if I ever get like this, you’ll do me in. Knock me on the head or something.”
Like I said, not the sunniest story, but I think one that long-term care providers might have a special appreciation for, in its sensitive treatment of these common issues.
Finally, at my grandmother’s house, I managed to pull my brother aside. “Is the house for sale?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “There’s an arrow on the sign, didn’t you see it? It’s pointed across the street.”
We laughed at my mistake. But I was also glad that I had thought, however briefly, of the changes that might have followed if the arrow hadn’t been pointing across the street, and was glad to be reminded of “Today is Sunday.” As difficult as parts of it are, “Today is Sunday” is also about the strength of the ties that bind, the devotion of parents and children even amidst life’s complications, and the poignant echoes that are created when different generations of a family are together.
Knowing what I now know about long-term care, I have a lot more context for understanding the story than when I first read it many years ago. But I think it’s a testament to the story’s power that my mind cut through the CMS reports, the whistleblower complaints, the clinical studies that I pore over every day and went to this story when it did, and that’s why I wanted to recommend it.