A friend of mine emailed me about his 87 year-old mother who has been in a nursing home since she was 65. He told me “she’s still in pretty good shape except for her tendency to exaggerate and her fuzzy memory about things still clear in my mind.” He blames this to being over institutionalized. I thought about this and realized that this is a likely explanation. Think about it. You have a life – marry, have children, do some kind of job, or if you’re lucky, have a career. Your kids go to college, get jobs, get married and next thing you know you have grandchildren. You retire. Then one day you decide or maybe it’s decided for you – it’s time for assisted care. Suddenly your life as you know it, is completely in the hands of strangers. You are given a schedule – when you eat, when you play cards, when you watch TV. Now you are part of a structured and usually well-established system of care. Whatever decisions you once made about your life are for all intensive purposes over. Day in and day out, you have a routine, a routine you have little control over. There must come a point where you think, what’s the point? Why even bother using the remaining brain cells you have when everything is decided for you? It’s no wonder people feel like going to a “home” is a death sentence.
But this isn’t necessarily the only possibility. Maybe after 20 years of having your basic needs met, you’ve had time day in and day out to remember your life, examine it and think on it. Perhaps those memories have become so vivid, so ingrained in one’s mind, that they seem larger than life. And those things that have become fuzzy are what we wish to forget. According to Rabbi Haberman, rabbi emeritus at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, DC who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, extreme longevity has its compensations and memories are the icing on the proverbial cake. Growing old is a fact of life. If we’re lucky, we will all get there. Some of us will be lucky enough to have wonderful memories to exaggerate and be allowed to let go of those “fuzzy” ones.