Aging, Hallways and Reflections on Life


Image courtesy of By Gabbyly (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Note: I wrote this post six years ago and it sat in my drafts folder. I stumbled across it today and nearly a year after my Dad’s passing, it seemed fitting to hit the button and publish it. 

I entered the brightly lit hallway and gave thanks for the welcoming absence of smells typical to healing environments. I turned right and moved past the doors, each one indistinguishable from the other except for the numbers. I reached the end of a corridor shaken from my inner dialog and realized I had taken a wrong turn. After several wrong turns, I landed in the right corridor and at the end spotted a man in a wheelchair. Even in the distance you could see the petal soft gray hairs surrounding a patch of bare scalp, they reminded me of the carefully planted daises around the outer edges of the tree in our backyard. My breath caught as memories of home washed over me. The old man, thin and slightly hunched over in a wheelchair was my Dad. When had he become an elderly man?  It was easy to look past the slowing gait and the memory lapses when he was at home but here without familiar anchors the pretense was stripped away, my father was no longer getting old, he had arrived. I slowed as I approached him not wanting to startle him and gently touched a shoulder. He looked up in my direction, eyes focused but unseeing, lost in another world where even English had escaped him.

As I removed my winter coat and sat in a chair next to him, a neighbor resident wheeled over to greet me. Her wide girth filed the chair and her equally big personality filled the corridor. She introduced herself and we made small chat as my Dad sat peacefully unaware of our presence. He was content in his own silence, interrupted occasionally by words that seemed reverent and prayerful. When I asked how long she would remain in the facility, she informed me that it was her home. The word “home” echoed like a scram in my head. How could this artificially cheerful place ever be considered home? She seemed nice, and though not ambulatory, fairly healthy.

I barely heard the cheery woman tell me that she was a childless widow, with nowhere to go. Her voice faded as my brain furiously spun out of control sizing her up and making comparisons that would fight the growing sense of dread that this woman was my future self. I was fit and this woman clearly was not and oh god I would never wear a sweater that ugly. I hated myself for my ugly thoughts yet seemed to temporarily lose control of one lobe of my brain. I shuddered visibly both to shake myself back to decency even as a part of me acknowledged with horror that I could end up alone in a nursing home wheeling through the halls as the resident Mayor of a town in which no one wanted to live.

The whole episode rattled me but I once again focused on my Dad. For the length of our visit, he slept on or off but was silent. I held his hand, and kissed his head and in fleeting moments of lucidity, told him I loved him. For now, this was home for my Dad but it was only a location. In that moment I remembered that the “where” of our dwelling was less important than those who shared the space. I cannot predict where home will be in my senior years, but I can live a life that ensures that the place will not matter. Like my Dad, I hope to be loved regardless of the address.