In a former life, in a different country, it fell upon me to accompany a friend when she visited an elderly relative in a care-home. I found it a singularly depressing experience.
Recently, in different circumstances, I had occasion to visit another similar establishment and found it equally distressing.
Perhaps it's the knowledge that, should we survive long enough, we'll end up in one such place ourselves: disorientated, frightened, probably incontinent.
I regard that as a gloomy prospect.
When I read that some new wonder-food or vitamin supplement will extend our lives by five or even ten years, I remind myself that, whilst those notional extra years might be a bonus were they added during one's energetic prime, it's simply pointless gaining them when the brain has gone and the body's geriatric.
No amount of perfume spraying
can reduce the underlying
scent of urine.
Does despair smell?
For that, too, pervades the Day-Room
where they sit, the old, the hopeless,
toothless, sightless, deaf, dumb, feeble,
staring fearful at the ceiling
or some mirage, in the corner,
no one else sees.
of their lives is like a puzzle:
pieces fail to fit together,
sky or trees or roof is missing.
There they sit and watch the seasons
come and go beyond the windows
and, on days considered clement,
some get out to sit on benches
or inspect the tidy borders.
fuss around them,
speak too loudly, move too quickly,
leave, dejected by the sadness
that pervades the rooms and spaces,
curtains, tiles, pale watercolours,
faded armchairs, plastic tables
and the pot-plants
No one can pretend that hope lives
in these wizened, vacant faces:
rather, an alarmed awareness
that a dreadful thing approaches;
foul, unthinkable, misshapen;
something never meant to happen.