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Silent Despair

Her eyes filled with tears as she waved goodbye to the two retreating figures. Reality had suddenly registered in her still-active mind. For the first time, she realized that she was to spend the remainder of her life in this cold and uninviting prison that smelled of cleaning supplies and antiseptics. She--a woman whose mind and hands had never ceased laboring for the comforts of her daughter and son--was now reduced to the mindless, monotonous routine of a nursing home.

Words still echoed in her brain, reminding her again and again of the burden that she had become to society and to the two children for whom she would have done anything: "Mom, we can't take care of you anymore; we just don't have the time to give you the attention that you need. You must know that we're doing this because we love you--you'll be better off here." Of course, they were right; she hadn't blamed them for a minute. They shouldn't have to wait on her hand and foot, as if she were a baby, when they had their own active lives ahead of them. When they had told her their plan, she had quietly agreed that the proposed arrangement would be best for all of them.

But she hadn't expected it to be like this. Sitting motionless in her new room, she glanced around at the bare walls, the empty bookshelf, the small TV in the corner of the room. She wondered how she would occupy her time and her mind; the prospect of remaining in this cell for the rest of her life horrified her. A piece of paper taped to the opposite wall caught her attention. Peering at it more closely, she saw that it was a schedule of entertainment events for the month--"Karaoke Night," "Music with Lisa," "Friday night Bingo." Her thoughts were interrupted by a piercing cry from the next room, followed by a low, lingering moan. Startled, she was about to call for help when two nurses calmly passed by her door. "Sounds like Martha is at it again--don't those shrieks just go right through you?"

Several minutes later, another woman appeared outside her door, shuffling down the hall in her robe and slippers and clutching a small cloth doll between her hands. She couldn't have been more than sixty years old and was apparently in excellent physical condition. But as she slowly paced along down the hallway, she kept muttering over and over, "I promise I'll be good; just let me go home, I promise I'll be good."

Back in her room, the old woman reclined in her chair and closed her eyes, trying to block out the pitiable sights and sounds around her by thinking about her past. She remembered growing up during the Depression on an Iowa farm, the only girl in a family of six children. Other turning points in her life flashed successively through her mind--her marriage at eighteen; the birth of her two children by the time she was twenty-one; the death of her husband in the D-Day invasion; taking jobs as a factory worker and a maid to support and educate her children; and, finally, succumbing to the debilitating effects of a stroke, which had resulted in her arrival here. All her life, she had been the breadwinner, the one to whom friends and family always turned for sustenance and support; now she couldn't even tie her own shoes.

She furtively brushed away the tears that came in spite of her efforts to control them, and tried to smile as a nurse came into the room with her dinner. In a tone usually used when speaking to little children, the young woman said energetically, "Well, how are we today, Mrs. Graham? I have your favorite meal here--chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans! Now would you like milk or juice, hon?"

As the nurse closed the door behind her, the old woman looked out the dirty windowpane at the setting sun and suddenly broke down, not even trying to stop the tears as they silently fell into her untouched plate of food.

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