My ninety-one-year-old mother’s recent illness, surgery, and subsequent placement in a nursing home rehab facility forced me to look at life through a lens I’m not accustomed to. Her body is now small and frail; not at all what the photos in her keepsake albums look like. No, that woman was a sharp dressing, good looking blond married to a tall, Air Force pilot with black curly hair. There they are in Germany after World War II, and in England in the 1960’s. Look how young and energetic they are…living large at the Officer’s Club or posing for pictures with famous landmarks in the background…smiling, hugging, laughing.
The years took their toll, and took my dad, leaving mom a forty-six-year-old widow. Her world immediately shrank. It expanded after a second marriage but never seemed as big as it once was. That marriage also ended, and now her world is one room on a hallway in a facility that requires you to know the code to the front door in order to leave. Most would say her world has shrunk even more. But has it? Something has happened that makes me believe it is growing. That something is people and her interactions with them.
Prior to mom’s life-saving surgery she lived a very cloistered life; content to stay in her room most of the time with virtually no interaction, save the brief daily times with me and Joyce, and the occasional visit of my brother and his wife, or of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. A life lived 95% of the time in about 120 square feet…she lived small in a small world.
All that changed with a trip to the emergency room, the dreaded diagnosis of cancer and a surgeon’s scalpel. Following a most unpleasant hospital stay she went to a rehab facility. Again, she found herself in a single room, only slightly larger than the one she left. But, a room with many more people. They come, they go, they speak kind words to her; they take her for an hour every day to a larger room full of other people who are, for the most part, in worse shape than she is. They play games with balls, do stretching and mobility exercises, play word and memory games; at Thanksgiving they even had a contest to see who could make the best turkey sound. Can you imagine…a room full of sick elderly people trying to sound like a turkey? Mom laughs every time she thinks of it. I laugh with her.
Now here is the most interesting thing I’ve observed so far. Mom, one of the world’s most hermit-like creatures, keeps her door open most of the time. She keeps up with the comings and goings of people in the hallway; she talks about the 101-year-old woman in her therapy group, and others, as they laugh with, and at, each other. She points with pride at a trophy of a football player with the unlikely banner written across the bottom: “REHAB STAR.” She was awarded the trophy for her hard work in regaining mobility and doesn’t miss an opportunity to show it to anyone who crosses the threshold to her ever-expanding world.
Perhaps I have stumbled on two of the secrets of living large—keep your door open most of the time and laugh with others. Life gets small if you are not laughing. You are not likely to laugh all by yourself. So, as we continue to count our blessings this weekend, may we look for the opportunity to laugh with others—a blessing in itself.
“A merry heart does good like medicine…” Proverbs 17:22