It's better to die young than to die slowly, warehoused in a nursing home. But in a nursing home the indignity and horror doesn't end with death.
Let me share what happened to me and to my grandmother, who I loved deeply.
My grandmother came to live with my family at age 94. She simply wasn't able to care for herself properly and she lived alone from the time that my grandfather died until she came to live with me (about thirty years). All of my family was dead, so as her nearest living relative, it made sense that I would take care of her.
I moved out of my den/office, painted, re-carpeted and she moved in. It was the best room in the house for her because it was on the ground floor, had a full bathroom and was within easy walking range of the kitchen and the family room. As the father of four daughters who also lived at home, I thought that it would be good for them to spend time with their great grandmother. And it was. The circle of life is important and both she and they benefited from the experience.
By the time she reached 96 (almost 97), her health had deteriorated to the point that we needed round-the-clock professional care and it became a huge drain on my family. I shopped around local nursing homes and found one that was well referenced.
In my opinion, nursing homes are hells where old people are warehoused. I don't know that there is a good one. I dealt with the Filipino staff who expressed shock that I wasn't going to enroll my grandmother in Medicaid, even though she qualified for it. I said, "I'll pay her bills." They protested that the government does that. It rubbed me wrong while I had the means to pay her way and I said, "If my money is no good, I'll go somewhere else."
I tried to see her 4-5 days a week and somebody from the family was there every day. The girls brushed her hair, did her nails and talked to her. My wife helped her out and I listened to her tell stories from her childhood. It's an endgame scenario. The staff began to complain because we were the only people who visited every day. They said that their patients were lucky to get one visit per month. That's not how I roll. Having "civilians" walking around forced them to be on their best behavior. Even being there every day didn't keep the staff from stealing anything that we left for her including hand lotion, shampoo and personal items.
My grandmother saw to her affairs and planned and pre-paid for her funeral a decade earlier. When the time came, the nursing home had detailed instructions.
Death came to her on an afternoon of July 1. I can't forget the day. I led a team that was in the process of serving a search warrant at a residence about thirty minutes from the nursing home. My oldest girl, 13 years of age, called, crying, saying that Grandma died. The nursing home called. They could have called me and had instructions to call my or my wife's cell phone. They ignored that.
I handed off the search warrant to my second in command and drove directly to the nursing home. They said that my grandmother's body had been moved and that I couldn't see it. (DEFCON 1). I drove home and met with my children and my wife joined me. Then we both drove back to the nursing home and I spoke to the lady who ran the place and asked where my grandmother's body was. She gave me the address of a "body broker". (DEFCON 2) This is the first time that I'd heard of a "body broker".
I drove to the office of the "body broker". Apparently nursing homes send the physical remains of the deceased there (for a kick-back) and they job the deceased out to a mortuary for cash. Call it a referral service (DEFCON 3). I didn't kill anyone at that location but I wanted to. They didn't give me the name of the mortuary at first but I think that they looked into the abyss and they didn't like what they saw there, so they handed over the address.
On my way to the mortuary (not the one that my grandmother had paid for a decade ago), I called a friend who is an attorney. He suggested that I not bring a firearm in with me because it was likely that I would kill someone. I disarmed. He said that it would be easier for him to deal with a situation where I merely ripped somebody's arm off and beat them with it. My grandmother's body had been there but they sold the contract to another mortuary. I shoved some people around but didn't kill anyone. I left for the next mortuary.
I walked into the second mortuary. A morbidly fat woman talked to a friend on the telephone, popping chewing gum. I was calm and asked to speak with her. Fat woman held her hand up to me while she gossiped. I leaped over the desk where she sat clearly without touching the desk, took the hand set from her fat paw and beat the telephone into its component parts. (DEFCON 4 - a heartbeat from global thermonuclear war) That got her attention. I explained that I'd been told that my grandmother was there and needed her to confirm it. She did that. My grandmother's remains were there. They agreed to coordinate with the mortuary that my grandmother had designated and were good to their word.
I paid the statement from the nursing home in the amount of about $5,000 to close my grandmother's account.
The Filipino owner of the nursing home mailed a subsequent statement saying that they found "additional charges" that I needed to pay in the amount of over $20,000. (DEFCON 5) If I didn't pay, she threatened legal action.
The Filipino lady who owned the business fell on hard times. I never paid an additional nickel. Her marriage failed, her business failed, and after all that grief, the USGOV deported her with extreme prejudice. It seems that she'd been operating under a false name and was in the United States illegally. Her problems didn't end there because an angry Philippine government (aided by a friend of fellow blogger, WoFat, and mine who had been Chief of Staff to the Vice President of the Philippines) threw her in jail pending the conclusion of an investigation.
She remained in custody for over six years, apparently the paperwork kept getting lost -- not uncommon in the Philippines. And because she was a 'Christian', incarceration in the Muslim prison near General Santos City on Mindanao, was exceptionally difficult, as you will imagine. A friend sent her regular shipments of rancid pork through the mail as gifts "per her request" and the Muslims were particularly outraged by that. DEFCON 5 is GLOBAL THERMONUCLEAR WAR. I think that aging thirty years in six, being thrown out of prison, penniless, friendless onto the streets of General Santos City, the nursing home operator come to understand specifically what DEFCON 5 is.
That was some years ago, but the experience burned a particular distrust for nursing homes and mortuaries into my brain. Body brokers deserve to be sent to Mindanao to spend the rest of their lives undergoing every earthly torment that the Christian-hating Muslims can dish out.
There is a lesson to be learned. Jim Croce put it in a song. "Don't go messing with people strange to you --- even if you do have a two-piece custom made pool cue."
I hope that my grandmother rests in peace.