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7 Life Lessons From a Nursing Home Worker

A psychologist's essay will move you to tears


“Being in the nursing home is tough. People weep and smell and drool. Sometimes you can go on the floor and hear a woman in her 90s scream, ‘I want Mommy.'”

So writes clinical psychologist Valery Hazanov in this insightful, moving article on Vox. For the past eight months, Hazanov has been working as a psychotherapist with dying patients in nursing homes in New York City “to see what death looks and feels like — to learn from it.”

Hazanov shares the lessons he learned in his Vox article (which, by the way, moved more than one Next Avenue staffer to tears):

Lesson No. 1: At the end, only the important things persist. “The world shrinks in the nursing home, and only a few things remain,” Hazanov writes.

Lesson No. 2: Having a routine is key to happiness. “Their routines are different but always involve some structure and internal discipline.”

My father once told me ... he would choose dying well over living well ... a peaceful death feels like the ultimate reward. I think I am beginning to see his point.

— Valery Hazanov, psychologist

Lesson No. 3: Old people have the same range of emotions as everyone else. “Denying that, because of our own discomfort, is one of the worst things we can do to old people.”

Lesson No. 4: Old people are invisible in American culture. “People at the nursing home like to watch TV. It’s always on. How strange, then, that there are no old people on TV.”

Lesson No. 5: The only distraction from pain is spiritual. “If for most of your life you are concerned with the mundane … then when you get old and feel a lot of pain, that’s going to be the only thing you’re going to think about.”

Lesson No. 6: If you don’t have kids, getting old is tough. “The saddest people I see in the nursing home are childless.”

Lesson No. 7: Think about how you want to die. “My father once told me … he would choose dying well over living well … a peaceful death feels like the ultimate reward. I think I am beginning to see his point.”

If you do one thing this weekend, read the full article here.

By Paul Duncan

Paul Duncan was formerly Editorial Director of Next Avenue. He has been a writer, editor and consultant for newspapers and news media in the United States, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia, and has a background in entrepreneurship and international business development. 

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