“Life is a dance,” in vinyl lettering decorated the wall behind my father’s bed at the nursing home last summer. It was credited to Katherine Hepburn courtesy of the hyphen that followed, but I found it hard to imagine her saying something like that. A search online never revealed her saying anything close, but I guess one of her other quotes, “Life is hard. After all, it kills you,” wasn’t nearly as appropriate.
In the month that unfolded at my father’s stay at the nursing facility, I’d end up discovering that he was never appropriately registered. What resulted in a typical visit from my aunt ended up with her pointing out the fact that we were told we would have to pay out of pocket there and he wasn’t receiving the appropriate therapy. As the oldest child, I was asked to speak with the staff, or rather, confront them.
They never took ownership over the mistake they made. Walking into their conference room was like walking into a table full of people who had all agreed on the same story. It was not a problem. It was not a big deal. I was overreacting. When I confronted them about the fact that my mother had found soiled sheets from the morning that were not taken away, that were still there in the evening, I was told rather abruptly that it was “stupid that you and your family never said anything earlier.”
There is nothing quite like being spoken down to. When you’re fresh out of college. It’s like the entire world wants to scrub the last remnants of whatever “entitlement” and “idealism” you have by dismissing you, and while entirely out of context I’d also spent the months prior to that feeling generally dismissed as “stupid” even though those were not the words that were used. In fact, there were no words. It was usually nothing more than well-meaning advice who came from people I respected and looked up to over the years only to learn later on that looking up to people inevitably meant that they were looking down at me.
And I learned, that I was stupid for being passive, for giving other people’s opinions power over me. I would learn it repeatedly after this incident as well.
But in this case, stupid was my family, or rather me (since the responsibility was left to me for making all of these decisions at that time) for not having known that when you send someone to a nursing home to recover, you can’t leave them there for the staff to take care of them even though it costs $300 a night to stay there.
As much as I hated hearing those words, she was correct. We were clueless. We were clueless that they would be so negligent. I never quite forgot those words. They stung and they hurt, because personally they were right in the sense that I was naive.
It was quite possibly the loneliest summer I ever had, and while people excitedly graduated my response to curious peers who would ask me what I was up to ended up in an awkward explanation with how my father had a stroke and I was taking care of things at home. When I wasn’t job searching, I was visiting the nursing home to make sure everything went exactly as it should. There would be no mistakes allowed after that one incident.
I go back to this point last year, not because I’m masochistic (maybe slightly), but because that one incident exposed all the fears and anger I had pent up. It wasn’t just the staff that I was angry at up at that point. There was a whole entire slew of people who “meant well” and had left me with some advice that was good and many that were bad. It was my anger towards my passiveness at simply doing whatever I was told. It was my anger toward people, so fraught with expectations I had on myself as well as others. It was that condescending tone reserved for the young from “older” people, that tone that I had mistaken for concern. I decided to stop listening.
I took the first step to becoming an adult, when I stopped looking for affirmation over the decisions I made. And I stopped looking for affirmation, when I finally became angry at the people I thought I could depend on for support who were not really there for me. I know they meant well, but at the end of the day, so did that staff at the nursing home.
I learned after that summer that you take care of yourself, because while others do have good intentions, they don’t actually have the capacity of knowing everything that’s going on. Perspectives are limited, no matter how well meaning people are, and expectations can only lead to disappointment.