“Help,” cries a woman down the hall, over and over.
From another direction an older man cries out, “Lord, help me!”
From a center point where all hallways collide, medical staff observe lights and switches, read manuals and discuss plans. Some answer questions of visitors and patients alike, all while remaining observant of those who are reaching the last of their days in the bodies they've known on Earth.
There are levels to what happens here that I can't begin to imagine, among the living and dying alike. A few weeks of my time is nothing compared to the lives that enter this building daily. It's been about 25 years since I've visited a place such as this, and I find myself asking, “Why?“
Matriarch became a word I first heard an aunt use. I never heard the term from my grandmothers. The use of the term was followed with sorrows‘ realization of what it meant to be alone. Not because there weren't survivors in younger generations that still existed, but because aged friends and elders were gone. It was a strange thought to me, as well, to recognize one could be alone, even though surrounded by love. But as I watch the last generation of family elders approaching their final days, weeks, and years, I am suddenly beginning to experience a hint of what it means to be alone.
This is not prison-alone or deserted-island alone. This is not even lost-in-the-desert alone, or even a broken-relationship alone. This is a different kind of loneliness. Not necessarily a fear -- that comes a little later. This is kind of like deep grief, like some part of oneself that has stopped functioning. Like a server once relied upon that will no longer answer requests for data. Or perhaps more like a line out of the communication hub that‘s been cut. The memories are still there, but something important has been lost that isn't quite the same as a storage drive being erased; however, that too, comes later. The mainframe still exists, it is still somewhat functional, but no longer is as consistent in its ability.
In those voices, the ones that cry out hour after hour until sleep comes, I hear system failures. The signals are being sent but the LEDs that once provided assuring feedback, like the panel of lights at the nurses‘ monitoring station down the hall, are slowly, painfully, fading out, if they still function at all.
As bad as bipolar disorder gets sometimes, especially when I‘m alone, off meds, or around those I am closest to, those cries for God that come from those down the hall, those cries speak of a much harsher future in store, at least for some. Those cries serve as a reminder of how much worse being alive could be.
Growing old is not for the weak. I am fortunate to have had the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and acquaintances that I've had in life. Even today, those family members that remain sit in this place for hours on end with each other when any one of them suffers. But that isn't the case for all who are here in this place. There are those who remain trapped in bodies that now work against them, in the sterile rooms of care centers that most drive by every day, with little thought of those within, many who have no visitors at all.
Our elders deserve far more than they inherit with age, especially in the final years of life. I wish every room had someone sitting with the patient within, if for no other reason than to let them know even more than the staff here already do, that they are not forgotten for the lives they've lived, for the contributions they‘ve made, for the sacrifices, for the discoveries, for the boundaries they continue to push, for the pain and suffering each one endures, regardless of education or profession, so that every last one of us can continue to exist.
As many living as there are, none of our elders should ever be left feeling alone.