Gary Tetz

The adorable old folks sat in a circle, exhibiting varying levels of cognition, alertness and physical decay. A kind lady walked around the room offering juice and snacks. 

A nursing home activity program? Nope, my high school reunion. 

How many years had it been? I’d rather not say. But when I was born, Eisenhower was still president. You do the math. 

Walking into the room was a surreal experience, as I hadn’t seen most of these folks in decades. Some were strangers to me. Others seemed permanently frozen in time, especially in hair and wardrobe choices.

Limps and grimaces abounded, as did unsightly bulges and other age-related disfigurements — and that’s just me I’m describing. Thankfully, my classmates showed similar symptoms. 

Once the hugs and handshakes were done, conversations ensued. The voices sounded familiar, but they emanated from different faces and bodies. A woman who’d known me well showed no recognition, until she heard me speak. Then her eyes got big like she’d just seen Elvis alive.

Through it all, I felt enormous resistance to being seen this way, and looking back, understand more clearly how seniors feel when life plunks them in a nursing home. 

I wanted to gather everyone around and stand on a table like Beto O’Rourke. “What you see isn’t really me, don’t you people understand?” I’d implore. “The person you remember is still here behind this barren scalp and multi-chin. Stop judging me!”

But of course they weren’t judging me, because we were all in it together. After all these years, no one had escaped the ravages of time. Yet in every way that was important, we hadn’t changed, either.

That’s a crucial reassurance we should relentlessly offer our residents: letting them know that we see the person they’ve always been underneath appearances and ailments. 

That we know who they really are — behind the chins and all.