You all remember him? Janus, the god with two faces. The ancient Romans believed he balanced the provident and the dire, controlled doorways and gates, the places of transit from here to there. He’s been on my mind tonight as I’m thinking of my ancient parents, newly resident in a nursing home masquerading as a rehab facility. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a beautiful facility. If I had to be in such a venue – and please, may it never happen – I couldn’t wish for a nicer one. It’s clean. It’s bright. It doesn’t smell. Everybody’s got private rooms. The staff is caring and seems genuinely fond of my folks. But for all the niceties provided which means someone is really, really trying to do all the right, the humane things, it’s still – let’s face it – a nursing home. In our society, that makes it The Last Stop. And you can flip all you want on that dime. Doesn’t change a thing. Pretty, bright, clean, sweet of scent, kind, private, yet still The End.
How do you deal with that? If there’s a handle to grasp, it’s damn slippery. Mommy and Daddy are about to be gone. Probably fairly close together in time. In the case of my parents, they’ve lived a very long time. They’re in their nineties and only recently found time catching up to them and knocking them on the head. Up to just about yesterday, they were on their own, living in the home I grew up in. Everyone knew it couldn’t last forever, but still, but still.
Frank and Freda are together. That’s very important to both them and their seven children. They spend an hour or so a day sitting wheelchair to wheelchair in the day room. They hold hands. They kiss. They vow their love to each other. “I love you,” she says. “I love you back. More than you’ll ever know,” he says before breaking into a few bars of “Don’t Blame Me”. Everyone who witnesses them smiles and feels a warmth blossom inside. Then his head falls on his chest and he’s drooling again. And she looks like she needs to flee.
So, if Janus is the god of endings and beginnings, of the past and the future, and if ever his essence walked the earth, it’s there, in the nursing home. He most certainly represents the model commanding these two who love each other so much they cannot be separate and live. Because Daddy doesn’t know quite where he is; he’s just pleased that she’s there too. Sometimes, he seems to know the world he’s in is bad, very bad, and that it’s a world she cannot inhabit with him but for moments of the day. Whereas, she knows exactly where she is but can’t join him in his world because that would mean she’s there, too, on the brink, in the demented land of The End and she’s not ready, not quite yet.
Janus haunts their children, too. There we are, happy they are alive yet wishing their suffering was over. We rush to their sides but are relieved when we can go home. I’m one of the long-distance children. After spending a week with them at the rehab facility/nursing home, I took my leave. I told my mother: “I’m so sad to leave you.” She replied: “You’ll get over it.” The next day, my brother said to my father: “Mary and Stephen are back in South Carolina now.” And my demented daddy replied: “I’ll bet they’re glad, too.”
What can I say to that? Yes, I’m glad I’m home. Who likes to live in a hotel for a week unless it’s in Tuscany or on a Kenyan wildlife preserve? But I’ve a sadness in me that won’t go away. But who knows. Janus willing, I’ll get over it.