As I pass groups of residents watching television or sitting in social groups, they will reach out to me. Their faces light up as they mistakenly identify me as someone they recognize and love. The disappointment that replaces their elation as they realize I am not there to visit with them is excruciating and weighs heavy on my heart.
A number of weeks ago, I was called to a local nursing home where one of my clients had passed away. As usual, multiple residents mistakenly assumed that I was there to visit them. As always, my heart began to ache as I witnessed their disappointment. I saw their spirits spiral with anguish as they realized my purpose was not to visit them but to remove one of their own as death had claimed him.
My decedent’s wife visited the funeral home last week to collect her husband’s death certificates. We took a moment to visit, and I asked her how she and her daughters were recovering from their recent loss. She expressed her loneliness and the difficulties of establishing a new routine without the companionship of her dear husband. Then she said the most amazing thing to me.
She said that although it will be difficult, she would begin returning to the nursing home to visit the residents there. Her heart was broken at the loss of her dear husband, but she has realized a new purpose in life. She has witnessed the pain of loneliness and will work to relieve the devastation it brings to one’s heart, mind, and soul. She will dedicate her spare time to visiting residents who have been prematurely abandoned by their family and friends at the nursing home.
This bereft widow will channel her experience of loss and loneliness into helping others. She will endeavor to relieve their suffering while they await the arrival of death to relieve their painful sorrow of loneliness. I do not know why we abandon our loved ones once they have become residents within a nursing home. Although it is difficult to find the time to visit, and it sometimes has unusual odors within its walls, the pain of loneliness on a loved one’s face far outweighs the inconvenience or discomfort of being there.
Special groups visit nursing homes. I have seen a clown whose talent is making balloon characters visit and entertain residents. Handlers and therapy dogs lovingly share moments of companionship. Barbershop quartets who sing songs of old and church groups who bring cookies at Christmas share momentary cheer. These people and many others visit and serve the elderly as they sit day after day within the confines of the nursing home. With all of their service and good acts of kindness, they cannot deliver the one thing that the residents stand in need of most – familial love and affection.
If you have a loved one residing in a nursing home, please take a moment and restructure your busy schedule. Allot 15 minutes each month to visit your dear loved one. Squeeze in a weekly visit if you can. Your reward will be infinitely more advantageous than anything you could ever accomplish within those few minutes anywhere else. The love and appreciation of a dying loved one will comfort you through even the worst experiences in life.
I know this because I see it almost every day. I now this because I feel it in my heart every time I go into a nursing home. I know this because I collect the dead after loneliness and isolation no longer rip their hearts out and rob them of the thing they desired most while living – familial love and affection.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author, and syndicated columnist. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.