Notes for the Skilled Nursing Facility

My mom is gone now.  But I wrote this poem anyway. It got a little dark.


Notes for the Skilled Nursing Facility


Her name is Diana Sue Harris, but please.

Don’t call her that.

She goes by Sue.


If there’s an issue, call her middle daughter

who will drop everything

and hold the hurt inside for years.


She loves Dr. Pepper, all day long. It never seems to elevate her sugar levels,

so give it a go.

If you tell her to drink water instead,

she might call you a bitch.


Dark chocolate makes her happy, with a nice cold glass of milk.

Whole. Not skim.

She doesn’t watch her figure anymore.


She can’t drink beer in here, I know.

So substitute with donuts, which can lift her spirits as

much as a couple of Michelob Lights

on a good day.


Can she have cheese? Block not sliced?




Can her senses still be filled with the mesquite smoke of tender Texas brisket, or grease from the Angus chuck dripping down her hands, or the tang of sharp cheddar on her tongue?


Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know.


If she’s sad, you can put on some George Strait or Elvis

and she’ll move her hips and hands and remember her lovers,

the dancehalls, the days of being light and desired

and full of magic.


Can she go outside here? Can someone lightly touch her elbow

and help her to a spot in the sun?


Is there a way for her to still feel a breeze lifting her silver hair,

Bake-clay warmth on her face?


Will someone make sure she can see the determination of lacy dandelions,

the hope in blades of Christmas green grass?


Her “baby” is Dolly, by the way. She’s a shaggy dog. She’ll ask for her.

Here’s what to do: Tell her she’s safe. And loved. And that taking that dog away from her was one of the hardest things her middle daughter’s ever done.


The TV. Yes, sitcoms help. Try Golden Girls.

Laugh tracks distract from not knowing who you are.

Try it for yourself.


Her husband of 52 years was Herman. He loved her. She loved him most of the time. She’ll ask for him, and wonder where he is. I need my husband, she’ll say. Don’t tell her he died three years ago. Tell her he’ll be there soon.


I guess she can’t go clothes shopping anymore. Just in case, Bealls has a good clearance rack this time of year.


Dislikes? Well, hot peppers. The sting of shower water on bare skin. Bras (who cares anyway?) Loud voices. Being touched without her permission.


If you can, ask her about her chili. Chicken-fried steak.

Her music store. Her life.

Not now, but before.


She takes her meds with pudding or yogurt.

Everything seems to go down better with sugar

these days.


Do not make her lie down flat in the twin bed in the corner

with the thin, rubber-covered mattress.

Lowering her head makes her afraid.

Like falling backwards, over, in a rocking chair.

Like something you least expected

And can’t control.


She can’t use a fork or spoon anymore.

Let her eat with her fingers. Let her snack. Let her cry. Let her dance.


Let her do whatever the hell she wants.


Take your $200 a day and leave as few bruises as possible.

Cover scratches with gauze and tape and try not to tear her tissue-thin skin.


If she doesn’t want to move, don’t make her. If she says no, listen to her.


Try to remember there’s a human in there. Who loved her family. Her animals. Food. Music.


Who was smarter than you may be right now.


Try to remember the need for dignity remains.

Even if she can’t speak that word anymore.


Tell her she’s beautiful.


Before you break her spirit,

and she decides living isn’t worth the cost.

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4 thoughts on “Notes for the Skilled Nursing Facility

  1. This poem really touched me. My Mom was recently in skilled nursing for 2 weeks after a week in the hospital. Thank goodness it was only 2 weeks or I think the place would have killed her. She is now back in her assisted living apartment with Hospice and is doing quite well and will probably live another 2 years. She is 101. She paid $300 a day for the terrible care in skilled nursing. Anyway, it is tough to deal with your mother’s last years without having to deal with her caretakers.

    • Jane, I’m so very glad your mom is doing well again! Sounds like I know where you got your strength from. 101. My mom was only 74.

  2. Read this through three times; just sitting here in tears for both your mama and mine. Big hug from the home state!

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