The interaction preferred

The poem, ‘The Visit’ was written three months ago but captures the essence of most of my once or twice weekly visits, at that time, to my 92 year old mother in her unit at a smallish nursing home community, sponsored by an Italian religious organisation. The facility came highly recommended through Italian connections in my mixed race family (Maltese, German, British, Welsh). Though my Mum paints it that her children put her in care, I went to great lengths to ensure that this was her decision after several falls, the last of which left her dazed and confused on the floor for 14 hours claiming that her call button did not work even though it was clearly operational. The first try at a care situation had her in a large single room with en-suite in a new modern facility that was too hospital like for her at the time, though she now remembers aspects of this much more fondly than she did at the time (rewriting history such a common feature of her thinking now). When the current situation became available, my sister and I were optimistic as it was not too different from her former unit, just one bedroom less and with care on hand 24 hours a day. Having a career in deinstitutionalising people with disabilities I naively assumed that these learnings had transferred to the aged care system but, as time went on, and even before COVID-19 restrictions hit, we started to become aware that the priority was the facility’s needs, not the individuals living in what we assumed were their homes.

Many of Mum’s complaints seemed just an extension of her over-fastidious nature but with increasing cognitive and health decline we witnessed staff ignoring basic preferences that would have been so easily redressed. My message here is that her complaints are not always baseless. But we have found ways to encourage more positive interactional styles during her visits: taking recent photos of great grandchildren as a focus for positive conversations, asking questions about her early life, discussing the latest gossip about the royal family, ensuring that we provide her with the little extras she loves (cream and ice cream for the ‘too dry’ sweet dishes, particular lollies she loves, and other favourite things) as well as print outs of her bank account so that she doesn’t get as confused about where her money is going. The following poem, I hope captures more of a sense of a positive visit.

The Interaction Preferred

The old smile on entering
Interest in things brought
Inevitable complaints dealt with
Briefly, not lingering.

Discussing my own issues
Awaking maternal concern
Description of happenings
Interest shown in these.

Some mention of COVID
Concerns easily put to rest
Photos of great grandchildren
But, not of her blood.

Leading to lengthy reflections
On those nearer to her heart
Asking questions about things
Some known and some not.

The conversation flowing
And ebbing at times
Questions about others
Staff both of us know.

A pleasant experience
For both Mother and Son
An unwillingness to end
Common in all visits.

But better tolerated
Because time allowed
This factored in
Planning the essence.

My Mum continuing
To teach lessons
Even though it might seem
The shoe has changed feet.


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