Life and Death in a Nursing Home

A psychotherapist’s views on life, death and America’s cultural values are witnessed in a nursing home and shared in this article by Valery Hazanov, PhD.

  1. At the end, only the important things remain: photos, books, paintings, clothes, and flowers are a few of the important items. The world shrinks in the nursing home and only these few things remain, things that feel important, worth fighting for.
  2. Having a routine is key to happiness. Patients who follow a routine do well, involving some structure and internal discipline. An example is a woman who pushes herself to do things, some of which are very difficult for her, without asking herself why it is important to do them. This keeps her alive: her movement, her pushing, is her life.
  3. Old people have the same range of emotions as everyone else; they feel everything – lust, regret, sadness and joy. Denying that is one of the worst things we can do to old people.
  4. Old people are invisible in American culture. Old people are not seen on TV or walking around on the streets- they aren’t seen very much in society. In other cultures, old people are esteemed and valued and you see them around. In the culture we live in there seems to be little place for someone who doesn’t look “young and great.”
  5. The only distraction from pain is spiritual. Some people in the nursing home talk about their physical pain all the time; others don’t. If most of your life was spent being concerned with the mundane, pain is going to be the only thing you’re going to think about. If you developed the spiritual ‘muscle’ you’ll be fine, having a greater focus.
  6. If you don’t have kids, getting old is tough; the saddest people in the nursing home are childless. When needed, the only people who might be there consistently are going to be paid to be there or our children.
  7. Think about how you want to die and talk about it with the people who will eventually make this decision. Think of death as a tour guide to your life: look here, pay attention to this.

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