No one likes the infamous “old people” smell. No one. Not even the old people. Trust me, I know.
I volunteer at an Alzheimer’s care facility. It’s a hospice. My health book paints a pretty picture of hospices, describing them as homes where family members and residents can work together in accepting terminal illnesses. It shows pictures of smiling patients speaking to therapists, with, of course, loved ones surrounding them.
That’s not what a hospice is. There aren’t family members, only cards sent periodically during the year. The patients I help rarely smile because they’re struggling to remember where they are, what year it is, even their own names.
And they don’t like the “old people” smell. They don’t like the smell of disease, of their age, of medication, sweat or of dignity lost. They don’t like it. But they live in it.
Next week is my last. I’m moving soon and I won’t have to smell that hospice. I won’t have to feed a woman who can’t even close her mouth, or calm a man who’s crying because he can’t stop shaking long enough to tie his shoes. I won’t have to run for a nurse when Evelyn falls out of her wheelchair.
I won’t have to smell the “old people” smell. But I don’t feel relieved. After four years of volunteering, the place is the same as the day I started. Even though the residents have come and gone, the atmosphere is the same. My time, my effort, the sum of it feels like it amounts to nothing. And I can’t help but think that more people would come if only old folks’ homes weren’t known for the smell that keeps them away, and all the hopelessness remains fresh, never to be penetrated by youthful spirits.
Some visit. Some bring cake and puppy dogs and flowers. But only some. When you were born, loving arms held you. Shouldn’t you die that way too? Shouldn’t the elderly, who’ve lived their lives, raised their children and contributed to society ... shouldn’t they die feeling loved? Why don’t they?
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.