My Scrambled Nest

An Almost-Empty Nest Journey of "Letting Go" With Laughter and Love, By Cathy Free

The word “drama” doesn’t exactly spring to mind when you think of a long-term care center for the elderly. But thanks to my mother Joy’s former roommate, Verna, Room No. 502 might as well have been an off-off Broadway theater for the past several weeks.

Recently, I shared a post on Facebook about how Verna complained on Mother’s Day that I visited too often, laughed too much and called out “bon jour!” more than her sensitive ears would allow. Everyone told me that I should tell her to stuff it.

So guess what? I finally did.

First, a little history. It took four tries, but my mom really lucked out when we moved her to her current care center a year and a half ago. Not only are the nurses attentive and kind with a sense of humor, my mother has a bright and spacious room with a view of the courtyard where we often sit to talk, read and watch the resident ducklings.

Because there is an extra bed in her room, every once in a while, a female “respite care” patient stays with my mom for five days, per Medicare rules allowing home-care families to take a little break. These temporary roommates have always been pleasant, even though many have dire health situations. Sadly, four of them passed away while sleeping in my mother’s room. My siblings and I believe that they were finally able to relax and take flight while staying with our  “Snowy Owl Woman.”

Although the situation isn’t perfect, my mother has always been fine with having a roommate now and then.

Then she met Verna.

At age 93, Verna is mobile and doesn’t appear to have any serious medical issues. Even so, her family wanted to move her permanently into a care center, and we quickly learned why. They’d simply had enough.

Because the nursing home was full and the empty bed in my mother’s room was the only one available, Verna was moved into Room 502 with the idea that she could be there for the duration. Her family even brought in Verna’s favorite  La-Z-Boy — a frayed chair that would put the ratty recliner on the sitcom “Frasier” to shame.

As soon as Verna put on her slippers and bathrobe and sat in that chair, she lit up her call light like a radio station contest hotline. Her grilled cheese wasn’t “melty” enough. Her overhead light was too harsh. Her comforter wasn’t warm enough. Her favorite shows on the big-screen television that she shared with my mom weren’t as “high-def” as they should be.

On and on it went. At first, during my thrice-weekly visits, I tried to be patient, thinking that perhaps Verna just needed a little time to settle in. But then I discovered the real issue: She didn’t appreciate me visiting my mother. Whenever I walked into the room, she complained.

“Another movie! Weren’t you just here?”

“Do you always have to talk when you visit?”

“Stop saying ‘bon jour’ when you come into the room. You’re in America, not France!”

The clincher came on Mother’s Day as my mom and I had a good time goofing off with photo apps. “Stop laughing! You two are always laughing. I need my peace!” Verna shouted.

Well. We all know how THAT went over. While my mother gave Verna a third-finger salute behind the room divider, I filled out an official complaint and demanded that if Verna couldn’t be moved to another planet, a room around the corner would suffice.

Finally, last Thursday, my request was granted. When I arrived to visit my mom (“Bon jour! Bon jour! Bon jour!” I sang as I waltzed into the room), two aides were packing up Verna’s things to move her in with an unfortunate woman in the 400 Hall.

“See what you did? I hope you’re happy!” Verna told me, shaking her finger.

I turned around and smiled. “You know what, Verna?” I said. “I’m not just happy. I’m thrilled! It’s no wonder that you’ve lived such a long life. You’re a real BITCH.”

As my mom applauded from her bed, Verna’s eyes widened and she pursed her lips.

“Takes one to know one!” she quipped.

Of course, I had to laugh. And when my mom started laughing and neither of us could stop, I thought that Verna would have a stroke right there. As a smirking nurse’s aide ushered her out, Verna couldn’t resist one more zinger: “You’ll live to be 103!” she shouted. “Count my words! I know it!”

My mother and I laughed for the rest of the afternoon. Who said that life in a care center is boring?





5 thoughts on “The Drama in Room 502

  1. LA says:

    I hate bitter and verna sounds bitter. Good for you! Keep laughing. Au revoir

    1. Cathy Free says:

      Thanks so much! Yes, laughing is key. Otherwise, I’d go nuts! xo

      1. LA says:


  2. Jenny Winget says:

    Loved reading this. My mom was in a rehab facility in Florida before we moved her to Utah. She had a roommate that would call her names, get violent, etc. They had to move her. I guess the woman had dementia. I was very grateful they moved her.

    1. Cathy Free says:

      Thanks, Jenny. So sorry that you had that experience. I wish that there was an excuse for Verna’s behavior, but there isn’t. She’s just plain mean. Sigh. xo

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