I walk down the hallway, past the row of wheelchairs lined up against the wall. I try to keep my eyes focused at the end of the hallway. But I can’t. I must look. My eyes meet theirs and most return my uncomfortable glance with a vacant gaze. They watch me as I walk by, but most show no emotion. Their heads turn slowly as they watch me walk by, as if I were the most interesting thing that happened by all day. One holds a doll, cradling it in her arms like a newborn baby. Another cries and shakes her head. She looks up briefly and her eyes beg me to rescue her from the prison she is trapped in — the prison of her mind. I give a reassuring smile. Then her head lowers again, and her shoulders shake as she sobs. I take a deep breath. I want to turn and run, but I can’t. I must continue down this disturbing, emotionally draining gauntlet to reach the room down the hall, to reach her, my mother, knowing that my visits mean the world to her. I have become her entire world as her world shrank around her, when she came to this place.
As I continue down the hall, I wonder how many of these patients have family that visit them, or I try to imagine what they were like when they were younger. As I peel back the layers of age in my mind, erasing the white hair, wrinkles, shriveled bodies, I can see them, smiling, surrounded by family, color in their cheeks, and a spark, a spark of life. They were somebody, they were part of something, they mattered. Not now. Not anymore. Now, they are invisible.
As I enter the room, her face lights up, and she smiles. That beautiful smile. The look she gives is familiar. I remember it well — when my children were small and how they would light up when I came home from work. It was a wonderful feeling, to be needed, and to know your presence could bring someone so much happiness. They needed me, and I needed them. But now, well, now, it’s different. They’ve grown up, and become independent, and they don’t need me, or at least not like how they use to need me. I feel a little…invisible. And then I wonder, is this how it begins?