Janine Cost (a pseudonym I created to respect the real person’s identity) was a woman of 100 years in the Rehab and Hospice Center (Health Center) at the retirement community that I work for.
When I began working in the Health Center (HC) in March 2017, Janine was only 99 years old and moving fast. She immediately stole my heart.
She brought a light and happy feel to a place that looks (and smells) like a hospital.
Some residents (patients) come in injured with the intent of rehabilitating back to health and moving back home, while ill residents a lot of the time are admitted on a hospice program, meaning they remain in the HC until they pass. Sometimes the hospice residents have a long time after they arrive, sometimes their illness is at a stage that gives them a shorter time with us.
I was never directly informed about Janine’s program, but it is safe to assume, since she was fairly seasoned and was there for many months without talk of discharge, that she was on hospice. The dining staff (my position) in the HC isn’t always told details about residents for security and privacy reasons, so I don’t know everything about her status.
What I do know is that Janine was adorable and also heartbreaking.
In my time there she turned 100 and holidays passed, but I never once saw a family member come to visit her.
On her birthday, the CNAs and nurses went out and bought her a flower crown and gave her a new baby doll (she carried around a dirty baby doll). I was heartbroken when we had to celebrate her birthday while her family hadn’t given her another thought.
Janine was unfortunate in the sense that she had severe Dementia. She most always didn’t recognize a person even if she saw them every day, and she would mumble out phrases that didn’t quite make sense.
She would have days where she would scream things at passing people and claw at you from her wheelchair as you walked by. Other days she would sit quietly holding her baby doll, maybe even pretending to nurse it, and when you said her name in a high, friendly voice and waved she would wave back with a big smile.
Sometimes you could even blow her a kiss and she would happily do the same back.
On the good days, she was like a content toddler. On dark days, she was animalistic and vicious.
Sometimes when you would say her name and wave she would respond by throwing her hands up and yelling, “GO TO HELL!”
On dark days, I would just smile and remember her good days.
It’s not personal. It is just how she is sometimes. Besides, she doesn’t even recognize who she’s yelling at and she will be sweet again the next time you see her.
In a sincere and light way, we would enjoy watching her sit at our counter, finger-painting in her special mashed-potato-consistency foods. She would rub it in her hair, dunk her baby doll in it, rub it all over the counter, spoon it into her drink, and even flick it at those close by.
The one thing she always ate, no matter what kind of day it was, was dessert. Every time I set a small bowl of ice cream in front of her or ground pie, she devoured it and said “thank you” in a low, raspy voice.
Even though some days she was clearly confused and upset, she overall was one of the happier residents. She enjoyed wheeling in and stealing our juice pitcher to hide in her bedroom, bathing her doll in mashed potatoes, hiding in the HC so that everyone had to go find her, and wheeling around the dining room to lick every clean utensil we had set out for dinner and unfolding all the napkins.
We never got mad. We more enjoyed the childlike purity of it all and mused at her ability to do whatever she pleased.
I wish her family had only visited her more. It took a week after she left to the local hospital and a few days back with us on tube feeding before she passed.
Even if her family is as far as New York, they could have sat with her during her last days. I know she wouldn’t remember them or even know they were there, but it’s the thought that counts.
If my grandmother turned 100, I would be there with a cake and presents even if she wasn’t cognitively there to enjoy it. If she was sent to the hospital and not looking so well, I would fly out to sit with her in her last moments, not so much for her but for me.
I don’t understand how some families can drop off their elderly and leave them until they pass. I couldn’t live with myself like that.
I will always see dolls and think of Janine.
I will remember her sitting at her spot at our counter and smile. She made the HC feel brighter and brought a smile to our faces in a place of sad realities.
So thank you, Janine, for being a grandparent to me and my coworkers, and thank you for teaching me the value of loved ones and the time you have with them.
She believed in a god and a heaven, so I hope she finds exactly what she needs if there is an afterlife. If not, she was a fighter and I know she will make it in her next life.