Thursday, June 2, 2011

Searching for Earl


I went to Kansas last week to see my mom who has recently been moved to a nursing home, in a section for people in various stages of Alzheimer’s. The Common Room is where most of the residents hang out during the day.

When we entered the room, Hanna Montana was on the large screen TV and there were about ten people gathered in front of the glowing screen. Across the room, some of the ladies were getting their fingernails painted by an aide, and Mom was at a table working with some giant Legos.

Her face lit up when I bent down and told her I had come to visit. She played it safe through most of the conversation, just repeating what we said, and there were times when she lapsed into worry about whether she had missed breakfast or not, but it was clear she was happy that we (three of her daughters, one son-in-law and a niece) were there to visit.

We took Mom back to her room to visit some more. She was missing her glasses so I went back to the Common Room to check if she had left them there.

As I was walking through, a woman in a wheelchair asked me if I could take her back to her room. She explained that she was tired. I asked her name and she told me it was Regina. My niece came with us as Regina directed me to her room.

When we got there, I realized I had no idea how to get her out of the wheelchair and into the bed. My niece gave her the call button and told her to ring it and a nurse would help her.

Regina turned to me and said, “Just go tell Earl I am down here. He helps me with things like this. I need Earl.”

“Is Earl in the Common Room?” I asked.

She nodded, so I went in search of Earl.

I caught up with one man who was slowly walking down the hall, but then noticed "Jim" written in large letters on the back of each of his tennis shoes. Not Earl.

In the Common Room, I looked around and realized there were very few candidates who would fit the bill. I went up to the first gentleman and asked if he was Earl. I got a confused look. I went to the next one. Same reaction.

Meanwhile my niece talked to an aide about Regina in the room and about her request for Earl. The aide nodded her head, “We’ll help Regina. Earl is her husband who died two years ago.”

When I got back to my Mom’s room and relayed the story to my sister, she said, “You do realize where you are?”

OK. I know. I am naive.

And maybe still in denial about where my mom lives.


We finished our visit with Mom in her room and said our goodbyes for the day.

In the hallway, I glanced down at Regina's room, and thought about her, sitting alone waiting for Earl.

On our way through the Common Room, heading toward the front doors, I couldn't help myself.

I knew it was futile, but just for a few seconds,

I still scanned the Common Room.

Searching for Earl.

69 comments:

Teresa Evangeline said...

Oh Betty, this brings back so many memories of the years my parents spent in nursing homes, not at the same time. More than once I, too, went on a search for help for another resident. I love the title of your post. The poignancy contained therein is almost unbearable. Darn old life. Full of beauty one day, the next day we're searching for Earl. It sounds like the title for a very powerful look at this whole time of our lives, for both parents and children.

Seams Inspired said...

Earl was my grandfather's name, Betty. He, too, spent his year in a care home for Alzheimer patients. He was in Peabody, Kansas, and received excellent care, though it was difficult to watch the various degrees of the disease's progression. My heart is with you as you experience this with your Mom. Hold on to your childhood memories with her. They will bring you comfort. Thanks for sharing your heart today.

Tabor said...

We all fear we will be here someday and because we don't really know how they feel I guess we think it is the worst. It might just be mild confusion before going on to the next project...I hope so.

Madi and Mom said...

BB oh my goodness where to begin...
first of all thank you for sharing with us, thank you for the beautifully written love story of Regina and Earl. Earl must have been a fine man.
I remember when my hubby's mom started down the Loss of memory road. She remembered everything about her childhood but not much current. At first we tried to 'gently' remind her what day and year it was...then my hubby said 'she is in her a very happy place let's leave her there.' As she talked about things she had the most glorious smile on her face. We learned a lot from her.
Hugs
C

Anne Gallagher said...

Oh Betty, this brought tears to my eyes. Searching for Earl. Could be the name of a great book.

blueviolet said...

There's nothing wrong with having hope. We need that.

Very sad story, Betty.

Old Kitty said...

Love never dies! Regina will always have Earl with her, no matter what.

Hugs to your mum too BB!!! Take care
x

Daisy said...

My heart goes out to you, Betty. The scenes you describe sound very familiar to me. My Dad was in the nursing home with Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's before he died. Five years later my mother who suffered several strokes was a resident in a nursing home for two years before she died. I'm so glad you had a good visit with your mom. I'm sure she was very pleased to see you all.

Laura said...

This brings back such memories of the two years that my mom spent in a nursing home. Her Alzheimer's was never that advanced until towards the end. It was hard, but it's so much easier for them if we just let them live in their world. It's a sad world though, isn't it?

Donna said...

How heartbreaking for her to be waiting for Earl...
And I'm So sorry about your Mother Betty...I'm Bloggy Buds with a Sweet lady named Delores whose husband David also has this awful disease...She has links on her blogroll of Others with love ones who has it...

http://movingforwardwithalzheimers.blogspot.com/


It's her everyday journal....
(((HUG)))

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

How sad!

EmptyNester said...

Alzheimer's got my grandfather years ago. There were some humorous moments and others, not so much. It was one of the most difficult things I've ever done in my life-watching that horrid disease take one of the few people on earth I had actual respect for. I'm very sorry your mother and your family have to experience this. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. I do think that y'all were wise to enlist the help of a nursing facility. My grandmother took care of my granddaddy with help from the family but I believe it would have been easier with outside help.

A bitter sweet post- beautifully written.

Leah J. Utas said...

I see this as a certain type of comfort. Earl is still with her.
Meanwhile, good for you for visiting and for helping this woman. So many are unable to do it.

Chrisy said...

yes...many of us will get to 'that place' won't we...but i tell you girl you sure can tell a good story...your phrasing...your dialogue...you have a real gift...thanks for sharin...

Liz said...

That has to be so hard. It sounds like it's been a transition for you guys as much as it is your mom.

Roberto said...

Hi there. It's Rob from SCWriP. I still check in here periodically, and this post really hit home. My mom died in March after a long battle with cancer. Different circumstances from what you're dealing with, to be sure, but learning to let go is something I'm still figuring out.

I've been blogging in fits and starts, and if you want to read my own account of it, you can go here:

http://songsnstories.wordpress.com/2011/05/14/i-know-these-waters-well/

Hope you're well, and it's a kick to see how prolific you've managed to be on here.

Catherine said...

Sweet Betty ~ I can't imagine how hard it must be. I'm glad that you got to visit your mom.

Sending you a very big hug and lots of good thoughts!!
xo Catherine

Hilary said...

As much as we dread the idea of lapsing this way, there has to be some comfort in knowing that Regina's Earl is always nearby for her.

You told this beautifully.

Nat said...

This is so sad, Betty, on so many fronts.
I'm sure Earl was there with Regina in spirit...

Parsley said...

SOOOOOOOOOOOB! WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!

Breaks my heart.

Cricket said...

A tear for you and for this post today. Prayers for you and your Mom. Carlin's suggested substitute for "been there, done that" comes to mind: been nearby, done something similar.

It's not easy, is it? But love never fails. That's what I go with.

Brian said...

I do believe it helps them cope where there is someone around, like you, who will still go look for Earl.

baygirl32 said...

how very sad. My thoughts are with you

Out on the prairie said...

Earl will always be around for her. Did you notice all the hearts in your picture?It is hard to be so far away.

Cake Betch said...

Aww.... that's so sad. Poor Regina.

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Poor Regina.It's sad and yet it is about living our days.

texwisgirl said...

a pang in my heart...

Peggy K said...

With posts like this one, I honestly don't know what to say. I know the words that are in my heart have been echoed here dozens of times, the lump in my throat is experienced by most who read your posts. BB, you leave me speechless. Rarely do we find someone who can stir our emotions the way you do!

Eva Gallant said...

Hugs to you, girl.

Brian Miller said...

you got me choked up with the earl story....

CherylK said...

I agree with Leah...it's a form of comfort. Regina will always have Earl with her. That's good.

I hope that if I'm ever in that position that my kids think of it that way. I believe that alzheimers disease is almost harder for the person's family to bear.

Bless you, Betty.

Flartus said...

Earl's a very lucky man. I hope Regina finds him again. I hope someone wants to find me that much when I'm gone.

Linda Myers said...

How good for Regina that Earl is still with her.

john said...

I think I must be allergic to your blog ; this is about the dozenth time that my eyes have started to water after reading a post...

Stephanie V said...

What a poignant story. I'm glad you searched for Earl. It may have been naive but so kind.
Thanks for the follow.

ShirleyC said...

Following you back. I'm sorry about your mom. That's such a sweet and sad story about Regina and Earl. It's just the pits getting old.

Ally said...

Betty, this breaks my heart. My grandma is in a similar state. She asks us about her purse 100 times (we had to stop letting her have a purse because she would lose it). She repeats questions and doesn't know where she is. It's been such a sad decline. In college I worked in a nursing home doing recreation and this was so common, residents asking me about their deceased husbands and parents :(

FourthGradeNothing.com

floweringmama said...

Earl will always be with Regina. A beautifully sad story.

Desiree said...

The ravages of time. None of us escapes them. A tough reality we choose not to face even when it's staring at us. I am truly sorry to hear your Mom has to go through this. It seems to be affecting so many people, worldwide, in increasing numbers and yet medical science is still baffled by the actual cause. So many unrelated things are suspected. There is no way of knowing who will and who won't succumb to Alzheimer's. It really is a cruel twist of fate. You might find it helpful to read Oriah's blog as her parents have both been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and recently moved into a care facility. http://oriahsinvitation.blogspot.com

Big hug,
Des xoxo

Bouncin' Barb said...

So sad isn't it BB? My father's nursing home was so depressing to me. These people just wanted to belong to someone. They would ask anybody who came by to help them. I had to learn to ignore them at the nurses suggestion. I feel for you more than you know. My Dad didn't have alzheimers but he had bouts of dementia.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

What a sad, touching story, Betty.
xoRobyn

Gods Little People said...

Betty, that is just such a beautiful story - thank you very much for sharing it. Very moving.
And thanks for following Gods Little People. I look forward to following your blog.

Baby Sister said...

Such a sweet story Betty. I'm at least glad to know that she will find her Earl again, one day.

Gigi said...

What a beautiful post, Betty. I'm sorry that your mom is suffering with this horrible, horrible disease.

Leanne said...

Oh, dear dear Betty . . . pass the hanky, please.

A beautiful story beautifully written. My heart is aching for Earl.

I will never forget this one, my friend.

Linda said...

You're a sweet lady to try to help Regina when she had obviously mistaken you for an employee of the nursing home. You were the closest thing she had to "Earl" at the moment. May God bless you and your mother and sisters as you walk down this difficult path.

Ann said...

This reminded me of visiting my grandfather years ago when he was in a nursing home. I remember walking down the hall to go see him when a woman said hello to me and called me by name (not my name however) The best thing I could think of to do was to just pretend I was that person and play along. Hopefully it cheered her to think that person had actually been there that day

Jane said...

Many hugs conming your way today. Living in a nursing home is not easy, and visiting a loved one there is even harder.

Jane

Susan in the Boonies said...

Gosh, that's sad.

(((Betty)))

I think I would spend the rest of my days, searching for my darling as well. Thank God, he's still here!

welcome to my world of poetry said...

A sad story Betty, a little hope goes a long way.

Yvonne.

Sandra said...

I do love that there was someone in the common room doing the ladies' nails. As for them watching Hannah Montana, well, nothing wrong would good clean fun ('cause I watch that show too!)

Jules said...

Since I just home from visiting my grandmother in a similar setting...I so understand scanning for Earl.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Lin said...

Oh yeah, that is tough to witness at the nursing home. My grandma was in one and there were all sorts of things going on--including one woman who would ask you to move her down the hall. And then she would ask you to push her near the door. Then it was OUT the door! She was always trying to bust out of the place.

My Grandma would tell tales of my dad or my Grandpa coming to visit her. They had both been dead for years. And instead of being sad about it, I would tell my mom that we should be glad that she is having a nice visit with these people in her mind. When you think of all the things she could be imagining, I think these are happy, nice things. Imagine if they weren't.

So, maybe ask Regina about Earl sometime. Sit and talk about her memories and just go along with her when she says that she is waiting for him. It doesn't hurt to just go along to make her happy.

Marlene said...

Breaks my heart. My MIL lived with Alzheimer's for nearly 15 years before passing away last year.

Brian (not the cat) said...

Sad and poignant stuff. Glad you got to see your mother, and I hope she enjoys giant Legos. I know I do.

Don said...

My mom's in a similar situation. Sometimes it can be just too sad for words. But it does help to have a laugh every now and then. Thanks for that.

LittleSilkDress said...

Heartbreaking.

faye said...

Hugs to you Betty .. I worry about the day I will have to face the
same situation with my mom.
Your words certainly tug at the
heartstrings.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Oh my goodness this post killed me. It's too early in the morning for me to tear up.
{{hugs}}

slommler said...

Tears for sure!! How heartbreaking...she waiting for Earl and he will never come now. Sigh!!
Sniff!!
Thanks and congrats on your POTW
Hugs
SueAnn

Snappy Di said...

My husband and I watch a TV show on Netflix called 'Saving Grace'. There's an old guy in the show and he plays the role of an angel. The angel's name is Earl.

Great POTW... congrats!

Di

Elizabeth Grimes said...

Beautiful and chilling. I had an experience similar to this once. It is quite an eye opener. Congrats on your POTW.

Moannie said...

Lovely love story and beautifully written but sadly it strikes fear in me.
Two things I fear for myself, and dementia is one of them.

Truly worthy of your POTW mention

Dianne said...

I came from reading your most recent post and it is hilarious to then read this - so touching and full of empathy and soul

you are an exceptional writer

Brava on POTW

TechnoBabe said...

You care. If only more people would truly care.

Congrats on the POTW.

Kathleen said...

Wow, Betty! I completely concur with Hilary. Beautifully told story. I might also mention: I LOVE YOUR BLOG!!! You have a new follower--moi!

Barb said...

Hopefully, thinking that Earl will come to help still brings Regina comfort. (Visiting from Smitten Image.)

The Adorkable Ditz said...

I'm sorry, but I'm glad that Alzheimer's doesn't run in my family. It's hard enough to see person with a failing body die slowly but with their mind intact, when it's the other way around... :'(

http://theadorkableditzmissteps.blogspot.com/

Stacey Dawn said...

I would have done and thought the same as you - went and looked for Earl. How beautiful that you took her at her word and went in search of Earl for her. What a gift that was..... even if he wasn't there in person. Congrats on POTW.