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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > This Home Was a Real Home for Mother Hilda

The family of Mother Hilda would not consider a nursing home for her when she became house-ridden from rheumatoid arthritis 15 years ago when she was 70 years old. It was out of the question four years ago when, she became partially bedridden. And it also was out of the question when a year and a half ago she became totally bedridden, wracked with pain.

The family of Mother Hilda was large — eight children and 13 grand­children. They could have afforded a nursing home, but instead they chose love and personal care. The choice was not simply a matter of old-fash­ioned filial piety; they simply wanted her at home to enjoy the observations of her alert mind and the deep affec­tion and respect they all had for one another.

So the dining room next to the kitchen in the eight-room family home was converted into her bed­room. It became a center of family operations. Mother Hilda still was very much the head of the family. Her wisdom, memory and tact were tapped daily. The grandchildren would come to her with their teen-age problems. She gave them history and a frame of reference as well as a sympathetic ear. At times, she chided them or joked with them.

Always keeping busy, she would read, watch television news, or knit for the family.

Two of the grandchildren were line singers. They would come to grand­mother and sing for her. She espe­cially liked Ave Maria and she toler­ated the contemporary popular songs. They called her their best friend.

It took planning and effort to keep Mother Hilda at home. The children had their own families in Rochester, N.Y., where she lived. One daughter and one son still lived at home. Every­day they would bathe her and change her bed.

The daughter who worked nearby would come home at noon and fix lunch and call her every hour from work. The son, who is self-employed, would come home at 4 p.m. to relieve another daughter who was there in the afternoon. A practical nurse spent the morning hours during weekdays.

Mother Hilda, a widow, would ob­serve occasionally that she was a bur­den to her children and their spouses. They would answer that she was a joy. She held the family together, gave them a sense of continuity and always had a thoughtful gift or advice at the appropriate times to members of her extended family.

“I cared for her because I loved her,” said her daughter Lily when Mother Hilda quietly passed away at the age of 85 a few days ago.

On Mother’s Day she had told the family that this would be the last such day for her. They feel an emptiness now without her. There will be no more Christmas gatherings around her bed where the gifts were ex­changed, no more impromptu con­certs, no more of her urging her chil­dren to get on with planting the spring garden.

But there remains something which is not perishable — a coopera­tive family respect that recognized an obligation and a pleasurable way of life as being one and the same.

Surely there is something here that touches on the essence of happiness. The family of Mother Hilda chose that way of living.

Other families would think the sacrifice to their preferred lifestyle too great. The nation’s nursing homes are full of elderly people who could still live at home but instead are com­pleting their lives in places that too often are lonely, uncaring, hazardous and exploitive.

The warehousing of older Ameri­cans in this manner is a booming industry, fueled by over $4 billion in government subsidies. Corporations running vast nursing home chains announce in the Wall Street Journal the capital they are raising and the shares they are floating in the stock market. The nation’s gross national product increases.

But the cost in rupturing the links between three generations, and the cost of shelving human beings who have much to offer to relatives, friends and neighbors are destroying an important value in our society —indeed a fabric of our society — that the GNP cannot measure.

These also are costs which dehu­manize people, who relegate their par­ents to this last segregation inside nursing homes.

There are older people, of course, without children to care for them. A humane society does need to provide help or homes in such instances. How­ever, nothing can really replace the family.

When Mother Hilda spent her last few days in a coma, she managed to open her eyes a few times. That was enough for her granddaughter, who, thinking that possibly she could hear but not respond, would sing song after familiar song in her grandmoth­er’s hospital room.