For those that haven't been following these posts of mine about what it's like on set, there is a lot of standing around for the actors, waiting for things to get set up, etc. We filmed in the actual care center, by the way. We were in the way for a lot of the time, but the patients seemed really excited by our activity. Also, it was Get Your Picture With Santa Day.
A huge long line of the elderly in their wheelchairs snaked through the facility so they could get a Polaroid taken, and maybe get their families to see it. Maybe not. I tried to engage with anyone that came by because A) I'm not a douchebag and B) I know that a lot of these people go day after day without visitors. Many of them (the majority, actually) just sat in their chairs, staring down. I couldn't get them to interact. And I came to realize that a lot of them didn't EXPECT me to, so they were just tuned out. One man was in his chair, pulling himself along the hallway with his feet, looking down. People walked past, dragged bags, etc etc and he would just stop, wait for them to maneuver around him, and then trudge along. He made me the saddest. He knew that everything else - including a bag of garbage someone was pulling along - got priority over him and his wheelchair, on his way to lunch.
There were a few ladies that just cracked me up, though. I asked this one woman who HAD to be in her 90s "And how are you feeling this holiday, young lady?" And she GIGGLED and WINKED at me. HEEE. I'm smiling just remembering it. A few other ladies commented on our filming. "Gosh, it sure doesn't look that exciting for you all." (Me and the other actress.) Then she would tell her companion that she couldn't wait to tell her children that a movie was being made right there in her home. Ha ha ha. Um, not a movie, but whatever. She'll have an exciting story to tell for a bit.
One scene we filmed was in a long corridor that had a breezeway that spilled into the middle of it. We had the ends of the corridor blocked but forgot to block the breezeway entrance. This elderly chap (again, late 80s, earlier 90s) sauntered in wearing a jaunty cap and carrying a schnazzy cane and demanded us to tell him what in blazes we thought we were up to. A nurse told him we were making a commercial and he informed her that that was impossible, because he hadn't been notified. We asked him where he was headed to (to try and expedite things) and he let us know in no uncertain terms that he didn't know, but he'd figure it out. LOL. He also tipped me a wink and then left to see "what the ladies were up to today." Hahahahaha. <3
Now, trust me when I say that I get that some of our relatives are difficult. I have one in particular that couldn't pay me to come to their death bed. But they can't ALL be that person, right? When my grandfather (paternal) was at his last days (he died at just shy of his 100th birthday) my grandmother came to see him twice a day. She got to know every one of the residents and very often was the only person that visited with many of them. I remember being a kid (about 10?) and going with her to visit Grandpa. It always scared me, those older people that didn't look like MY older people. There was one woman in particular that sat in her chair in the middle of the hallway and would reach out to us as we walked past and cry out. She terrified me. My grandmother pulled me aside and told me that "she was just so lonely and missed her grandkids."
A few days ago my son and I were at a craft store (he's learning how to crochet) and an older woman saw us picking out yarn. She commented on that, then began to tell us the story of her father in his last years, how she taught him how to knit and how he would make the most 'beautiful baby blankets' for the young women in his neighborhood. We politely listened to her for a bit, then, at a natural break in the convo, we moved on. My son couldn't get her out of his mind for days. "Mom, I think that woman was really lonely and didn't have anyone to talk to. I wish we had stayed longer." He's a good kid, my son. <3 And pretty freaking intuitive at times.
I don't know, all of this dreariness has to go somewhere, right? Maybe this January you just drop by a facility and see if they need anyone to play cards with some of the residents. January is always the thinnest month for places like that and charities. You'll hear some stories that you'll remember for ever, I bet.
I moved in with my grandmother (she of the "she's just lonely, sweetheart" conversations) in her last months, caring for her after her stroke. Those were some of the most precious times I ever had with her. Were they hard? Absolutely, I was 22 at the time and at the height of my selfishness. Some nights I had to carry her - literally in my arms - to bed. Some days she couldn't remember that she'd done something and ended up making four batches of corn fritters, all made wrong, too. But some days we pulled out the architecture legos my sister and I played with as kids and I'd build something for her and we'd watch chaste romances (she was devoutly Mormon) and she'd tell me things about herself that she hadn't told anyone before. (We were both middle children with "glamorous and popular" older siblings.)
She died a few months after, but I always remember watching Anne of Green Gables with her and marveling over how handsome we both had always found Gilbert Blythe. :) [And for those who will get the reference, even Rachel Lynde had her good points in the end, didn't she?]
Just... they can't all be disposable, folks. Are some of them racist? Yep. Grumpy? Negative Nancys? Sure thing. But maybe you'll be a force to help change their minds - and maybe you won't. But I bet you'll feel better for trying. And for those of you that are caring for your elderly and/or infirm parents: you have my utter respect, and I wish you a bit of peace of your own this holiday. It's a hard job that doesn't get enough credit. Just know that I admire the hell out of you.