By Father Peter J. Daly
Catholic News Service

We put my mother in a nursing home in mid-March. It may only be temporary, but it was painful. As our parents live into their 90s, it is a common experience. But that doesn’t make it any less painful.

Mom turns 91 in April. She has had a full life. She raised eight children. She was married for nearly 40 years. She has two master’s degrees, and served in the Army in World War II. She once had a TV talk show in Baltimore. She taught art.

Last week, Mom went to the hospital to have a pacemaker put into her chest. Her heart was gradually slowing down. At Mom’s age, any surgery is serious, and the surgery to install the pacemaker knocked her out. {{more}}

In the recovery room after the operation, she was in pain and disoriented. This made her panic. At one point she sat up. The nurses tried to get her to lie down. Mom started to scream.

At first it was a little scream, but then it turned into a long, loud, angry shriek.

It was more than a scream about physical pain though. It was a protest about life at 90.

It was a primal scream, saying, “I don’t like old age or the way I am.”

Eventually, Mom grew calm. I stroked her hair. I held her hand. I talked to her. I prayed with her.

Over the next couple of days she was weak and tired; she hardly talked.

When it came time for her to leave the hospital, I agreed with the social workers that she should be discharged to the rehabilitation and nursing facility that is close to Mom’s apartment. It is a beautiful place, bright and clean. But it is still a nursing home.

Mom once made me promise that I would never put her in a nursing home. “I had eight children, so I don’t have to go into a nursing home,” she told me.

I took consolation in the thought that this was temporary.

No matter how nice a nursing home is, it is not your own place. You must depend on the kindness of strangers.

The dayroom on her floor had half a dozen people sitting in the sun. Some were slumped over in their wheelchairs, sleeping. One was on a gurney. The TV was on, but no one was watching.

I wondered, “What kind of lives have they led? Were they former ship captains, school teachers, army officers, housewives, mothers and fathers?”

Probably they all had lives of accomplishment. But now they surrendered it all.

I stayed with Mom until visiting hours were over. At 9 p.m., I got up to leave and kissed her.

She said, “Don’t go. Don’t leave me.”

It was like a bullet to the heart.

“I’ve got to go, Mom,” I said. “But I’ll be back.”

I held it together until I reached the car. But when I got behind the wheel, I just sat there in the parking lot and cried.

Actually, I screamed.