Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Breese Nursing Home: An exploration of humanity and love

Ellen Jantzen
Newport Beach, California, USA

I attended a nursing home Christmas party at the Breese Nursing Home in Illinois the week before Christmas, 2010 and was very moved by the residents and their families; it was a life-changing event for me.

Before, while visiting my mother-in-law, I would divert my eyes when passing residents. Somehow it seemed that the aging process could be “caught” and if I didn’t make eye contact I would be immune. As I enter mid-life, I see the end approaching much more quickly than I had when I was younger. I see the process, very graphically, at the nursing home; the abilities lost (many are in wheelchairs), the mental faculties fading, the wrinkles, and the grey hair.

I still want to accomplish so much before I reach this latest stage in life, and, as a baby-boomer, I feel the end could be pushed off with exercise and proper eating. But my father-in-law was a marathon runner and weight lifter who competed in many races, winning years ago “Finest Physique in America.” Even he became frail at the end of his life.

For all of these reasons, I was very reluctant to attend the party, but did so as emotional support for my husband. Ultimately this visit was a life-changing event for me as I observed the humanity still residing inside these aging bodies. Now I see that the end of life still offers opportunities for creativity, humor, and love.

There was great merriment at this party with whole families in attendance from adult children of the residents to grandchildren and great grandchildren. There was laughing, toe tapping, hugs, and singing. Here and there I would notice a sullen visitor, but on the whole all in attendance were eager to connect with their loved ones and friends. Young children scurried about very excited at seeing Santa. Most residents glowed and giggled when Santa handed them a gift. The quote I overheard from Maria Shriver sums up very well the general atmosphere of the party: “They look like your parents, but they are your children.”

These photos were shot without a flash so as to not disturb the events or invade privacy; faces have been disguised to help maintain the dignity of the participants.

Devotion, Chromogenic print, by Ellen Jantzen
Chromogenic print – 12”x 16”
Moments, Chromogenic print, by Ellen Jantzen
Chromogenic print – 12”x 16”
Touching, Chromogenic print, by Ellen Jantzen
Chromogenic print – 12”x 16”
Recollection, Chromogenic print, by Ellen Jantzen
Chromogenic print – 12”x 16”
Cheer, Chromogenic print, by Ellen Jantzen
Chromogenic print – 12”x 16”
Season's greetings, Chromogenic print, by Ellen Jantzen
Season’s greetings
Chromogenic print – 12”x 16”
Best wishes, Chromogenic print, by Ellen Jantzen
Best wishes
Chromogenic print – 12”x 16”
Detached visitor, Chromogenic print, by Ellen Jantzen
Detached visitor
Chromogenic print – 12”x 16”
Gift, Chromogenic print, by Ellen Jantzen
Chromogenic print – 12”x 16”
Measure of time, Chromogenic print, by Ellen Jantzen
Measure of time
Chromogenic print – 12”x 16”

ELLEN JANTZEN was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, but moved to Illinois after meeting her husband, Michael. There, organic gardens and goat husbandry took center stage in Ellen’s life. A desire for a more “artistic” life then led the couple to Los Angeles, California. After spending two years at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) and working in the corporate world, Ellen longed for a more creative outlet. A confluence of technical advancements and creative desire culminated in her current explorations in photography, using both a camera to capture staged assemblages and a computer to alter and manipulate the pieces. Not considering herself a photographer but an image-maker, Ellen has been creating works that bridge the world of prints, photography, and collage. She is recognized as an innovator, and her work has been shown in galleries and museums worldwide as well as numerous websites. You can see more of her work at http://www.ellenjantzen.com/.

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