I always dreaded walking through the hallway of that hospital for the aged, which most would call an old age "home" or simply "the home", not because I dreaded visiting my mother-in-law (Ah Moo), but because I couldn't stand the sights of pain, suffering and loneliness. To get to Ah Moo, who was situated around the corner near the end of the long L-shaped hallway, I had to pass by some dozen other residents, some bound by their wheelchairs, some crouched over the arm of a chair, sleeping presumably, some slowly walking with the aid of a cane, some shaking and screaming on their beds, and some would just sit silently with an empty stare into the air. It was heart-wrenching.
I couldn't help but imagine the abundance of history that must have been held captive in that place.
Take Mrs. Wong for instance. With long, frail, white hair, a shrunken face and small feet that were remnants of a time when binding feet was the rave, she sat quietly, pondering. Her early life was a life borne of aristocracy. Having had to leave her home town in China during war, she ended up in Hong Kong, where she later became the matriarch of an influential family. The failure of the family busines after financial turbulance in the real estate and stock markets caused her family to retreat to a more modest lifestyle. They ended up in Toronto during the mid-nineties. Unable to look after her at home, her remaining daughter and her family was forced to put her into "the home".
Then there was Mr. Chan, bound to his wheelchair, with partial paralysis to his body. Mr. Chan was a classical ballroom dance instructor during his youth, as evidenced by walls full of photographs of a handsome young man suited up in dance gear positioned with a different young lady in their pretty dresses, in each and various dance poses. Mr. Chan did not have any children. After surviving a stroke, he was eventually placed in "the home".
Across from Mr. Chan's room was Mr. Lee, who was known in "the home" as a petty thief. And no wonder. Mr. Lee had been a thief most his life. A product of too much education, Mr. Lee spent much of his early years in school. One day, in his mind, Mr. Lee decided that that was it, he was done and headed for the streets. To his family's chagrin, he refused to go home. They begged him, but he just wanted to beg on the street. He lived there for years, begging, stealing what he can, until one winter morning when he was found near death by a passerby. After a brief hospital stay, he was sent to "the home". His family still had idea where he ended up and presumed he was dead.
Lastly, Ah Moo. She was a beautiful lady in her youth. A picture of her and her adopted daughter was by her bedside. As a child, Ah Moo lived with her aunt, who tried to marry her off shortly after she turned sixteen. As an act of defiance, she ran away from home and never looked back. She ended up in Saigon, Vietnam. She was hardworking all her life, first working for a wealthy family as a servant and later, peddled things door-to-door to make a living, from jade bracelets to gold rings. At fifty, she decided to adopt a newborn daughter, whom she had hopes in for taking care of her in her old age someday - that wish later became a reality as Ah Moo's health gradually deteriorated. With numerous ailments, she was confined to her home, taken care of by her daughter and husband. That care became more and more complex and intense, until it reached a breaking point. There was no choice but to put her into "the home". It was a dreadful decision.
After each visit, I left with mixed feelings. On the one hand I was glad to be leaving "the home". On the other hand, I felt guilty leaving so soon. As I walked back around the bend of the hallway and towards the light-filled exit, I tried to close my mind to the imagery, sounds and smells of what seemed to be a dumping ground of living human artifacts. It was not easy.
If it weren't for Sunday Scribblings, I wouldn't have written this.