I believe the importance of daily bread cannot be overstated. I believe the dining room in a nursing home is the hub for daily bread. Social gatherings around tables holding vases of plastic flowers break the endless monotony of institutional living. Table foursomes share opinions on food and caregivers and look out for each other. Unfortunately, there isn’t room for everyone and unlucky residents eat from trays placed by bedside televisions. I quickly add my mother’s name to the waiting list for dining room privileges.
While lunch is being served, Maria enters the room wearing a spotless pink uniform. Her shift began at 6:30 a.m. after rising early, packing lunches, driving her children to childcare, and dropping her mother off at work Maria’s sunny disposition is like a breath of fresh air as she hands out bibs and moves wheelchairs into place at tables. When she spots Hattie’s empty chair, she takes a few minutes to rest her feet.
If man’s last freedom is choice of attitude, it appears many in this room have chosen an attitude of cheerfulness. Louie, the only man at this table, may be the exception. He sports a Redskin’s cap and a frown at all times. He is unhappy with the hand fate has dealt him and makes no apologies for being cantankerous. The cook has a standing order to serve him mashed potatoes, his all time favorite food, at every lunch and supper. “Missing again!” he growls. As Maria heads to the kitchen, he manages to squeeze her leg. “You know better than that,” she good naturedly scolds. He flashes an innocent grin.
Catherine’s demeanor and posture hint of old lace and fine china. I imagine she was a real beauty in her younger years. The hearing aid she wore upon her arrival has become lost or broken. Hearing aids are too small and fragile to last long in a nursing home. Catherine cannot hear and my mother cannot speak, but when she reaches across the table to pat Mom’s hand, their expressions are eloquent.
As I feed mother, I share happenings of grandchildren, hometown friends, and church. Small bites. Small sips. Swallowing isn’t easy. The detested pureed peas are left untouched on the plate. When she picks up the teaspoon, I tell myself, “This is encouraging; she is going to help herself.” I wait. Mom carefully stirs a spoonful of applesauce into her glass of tea. My best attempts to outwit dementia have ultimately failed.
I believe that rudimentary bread of life is served in the dining room. Lives are given fullness and meaning in the presence of respect and dignity, in warm smiles, attentive ears, compassionate hearts, and kind hands.
I believe that sooner or later each one of us may be called to reach across the table with an open hand and be either a giver or a receiver of daily bread. By grace, may I choose to be so with good cheer and gratitude.
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