No one wants to be in a nursing home… no one, I thought as I entered the doors of the Parkway Village Health Center. But when you’re finding nursing care for a life companion of over sixty years, it’s especially difficult.
I had been a 24-hour a day, 7-day a week caregiver for my husband for four-and-a-half years, and I was having difficulty letting go of the role. But due to the progression of his illness, at our last ER visit, three physicians had recommended we consider nursing care.
Parkway Village was the latest of several nursing centers my family and I were investigating, and I was getting discouraged. None quite fit our needs. I had saved Parkway Village until last because I had assumed it would be the highest in price, and cost was necessarily a huge factor in our deliberations.
Located in one of the more affluent areas of Little Rock, the charming appearance of the community with its beautifully landscaped streets emitted a sense of luxury. As my daughter and I pushed my husband’s wheelchair into the foyer of the Parkway Health Center, we were met by the administrator, who put us immediately at ease by his personable concern for the needs of each of us. I intuitively recognized that this was a nursing care unit that was concerned not only for the patient, but for the family members as well. And that was what Parkway Health Center proved to be. Amazingly, I learned the cost of a single room at the Parkway Health Center was considerably less than a double room in the far less desirable facility we had just left.
Meeting with the administrator, the director of nursing, and one of the two registered nurses on staff; observing a practical nurse making her rounds; and watching the certified nursing aides caring for their patients in a surprisingly immaculate environment were enough to give me a sense of relief that our journey for skilled nursing care had ended. We had come home.
And that is exactly what happened over the next few months. I spent all my days with my husband and commuted home to another town at night. Our adult children spent many hours with us in their dad’s spacious room, in the dining room, in the atrium, or on the beautifully landscaped patio. We joined games and entertainment as well as chair exercises with staff and residents. As a family we participated in seasonal social events and parties. I soon realized we had become part of a caring, nurturing extended family. And like any family, we often had small upsets with members of immediate family as well as extended family, but they were always reconciled with communication. Although I, like most, recoil from the antiquated term “nursing home,” I began telling everyone who would listen, “Parkway put the ‘home’ in nursing home.”
Then came an unplanned twist in my journey. A teenager made an illegal turn on a rainy day in front of my car. I suffered no broken bones, but injuries to my spine were severe enough to make commuting painful and frightening. I knew it was time to sell our home and move closer to Parkway Health Center so that I would no longer have a daily commute. But where would I go?
Again, the concern for finances became paramount. On one of my final commutes to Parkway Village I suddenly woke up to what had been staring me in the face on every daily trip to see my husband. Each day I entered a gated community that included not only the Parkway Health Center, but also featured independent living patio homes and apartment homes on 87 acres of land, replete with gardens, trees, and a fountained lake with ducks. The community includes a free-standing wellness center with workout room and indoor heated pool where residents enjoy water aerobics and water volleyball. This center is located next to the Commons, situated in the heart of Parkway Village. The Commons houses the reception area; administrative offices; support services such as transportation, security, maintenance, and housekeeping; mail boxes and package room; copy machine for residents’ use; bulletin boards for communication; a barber/beauty salon; the dining room featuring chef-prepared meals prepared on-site; activity rooms for bridge, other games, and hobbies; a large auditorium furnished with a baby grand piano where plays, movies, live musical entertainment, and lectures are held; a well-stocked library with daily newspapers, magazines, books, and puzzles; and a chapel with services hosted by an array of visiting pastors. One wing of the Commons even houses a medical clinic staffed by a gerontologist-internal medicine physician.
But of course I could never afford such luxury added to the cost of my husband’s care! Or could I? I had been badly mistaken on that topic when searching for a place for my husband. So on a whim I entered the Commons, spoke with the marketing director, and received a life-changing tour of Parkway Village. By doing some simple arithmetic, I learned that the overall cost of living in our home, which included utilities, maintenance, yard care, housekeeper fees, taxes, insurance, and more, was more than double the cost of an apartment within walking distance of the Commons and the nursing center to visit my husband daily. With the free transportation offered by Parkway Village, I no longer needed to drive. The Village provides free transportation to all medical appointments, grocery shopping, clothing and incidental shopping, and trips anywhere on Parkway grounds. For a small fee I could receive round trip transportation to the airport and anywhere else in the heart of Little Rock.
My initial reason for coming to Parkway Village ended last year. My husband died in hospice at the Parkway Health Center after one and one-half years as a resident. The staff gently prepared me for the end, each nurse or aide offering daily counsel and consolation, sharing the wisdom that only those whose hearts are big enough to consistently travel this most natural part of life’s journey can offer. For days before his death, as I sat at the foot of his bed, I witnessed each aide that had given him such loving care take a break from the day’s work to slip quietly into his room, put her head on his chest or rub it gently and whisper soft words to him as he lay unaware of his surroundings, then slip quietly from the room. As they whispered their loving goodbyes, he sank deeper into a place of peace. He died in my arms, suddenly awake and aware with a smile and a final kiss for me, surrounded by all members of his immediate family, while his extended family throughout the building lovingly continuing their seemingly mundane chores. It was all that anyone could wish for a loved one.
After 62 years of marriage and now newly widowed, it was definitely time to take stock. Amazingly, I realized that my family now included not only my children and the people at Parkway Health Center, but the entire Village. Because I lived among the active, exciting, fun-loving, worshipping, on-the-go people of Parkway Village for a year before my husband died, they have also become an extended family. The grace-filled grief of the loss of a lifelong relationship cuts deep for everyone who experiences it, but what a joy to enter this phase of my life with close friends and neighbors who have experienced this part of the journey before me, eat with them daily, laugh with them, play with them, shop with them, and pray with them. Just as Parkway Village put the word “home” in nursing home, for me they have now given a new meaning to the term retirement center. To me Parkway Village is a “fulfillment community.” It has and continues to fulfill all my needs for a meaningful life.
*Marie (not her real name) continues to live in independent living at Parkway Village.