I find it difficult to visit nursing homes these days. The truth is, I’ve always found it difficult. For years it was a part of my weekly task to visit aging parishioners, friends, and eventually my own mother, in such places Some nursing homes are better than others, but in some ways all nursing homes and assisted-living homes are the same. It comes to me this morning that life in our society has parallels to the plight of the old in a nursing home. Our griefs, our feelings, our thoughts, our anger (our humanity) are often muffled by various kinds of tranquilizers (opioids, alcohol, anti-depressants, religion, and various forms of bingo placebos) even as the old are silenced by the indiscriminate use of tranquilizers in nursing homes.
Old people are not permitted to express their deepest pain or to be angry in nursing homes. We are not permitted, or at least it is frowned upon, to complain or rant and rave, or express the depth of the feelings that plague us. No one wants to listen to that kind of stuff or deal with it. We want to administer a tranquilizer for those who do, and we often use a tranquilizer of one sort or another to protect ourselves from them.
Old people in nursing homes have usually lost everything—“home, work, family, their place in community, health, movement, beauty, control, choice, privacy—a sense of their own worth.” Have we not lost the same things, though in different and more subtle ways? There are many who are not “old” yet, and are not residents of a nursing home, who have lost everything. There are many who are not “old” yet, who have lost the option of choice, if indeed, they ever had it. There are many who are not “old” yet, who have lost their health. There are many forms of nursing homes and our greatest danger as a society is to ignore the “nursing home mentality” that seems to be thriving.