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The Red Book

Relationship: The Heart of Life and Long-Term Care
by Carter Catlett Williams

Once upon a time, there was an old man who went to live in a nursing home. He had a friend who visited him soon afterwards. At the end of the first visit, as his friend was saying good-bye, the old man held onto his friend's hand and said, "Come back to see me soon so I will know that I'm living."

But this is no fairy tale. It's my own, very real experience. This man was my friend, and it was my hand he clasped, and it was to me he said those words, "Come back to see me soon so that I will know that I'm living." This captures the feelings of thousands of elders across the country who enter nursing homes each day. Many, if not most, feel that to go into a nursing home is simply to wait to die rather than enter into another stage of life to be fully lived.

My friend had gone straight to the heart of the matter: When I am with someone with whom I have a relationship, I know that I am living. But, surrounded by people who are strangers, funneled into daily routines that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable, my life unknown to others, I'm not sure I am live. It's as though I have fallen out of life -- perhaps into a living death.

Here, at the beginning of this discussion, I state my conviction: relationships are not only the heart of long-term care, they are the heart of life. And life ought to to continue, wherever we live.