AS I AM NOW approaching the twilight time of life, I cannot help but wonder if I will ever be a resident in a nursing home. The people who live in nursing homes seem to be either aged, incurable convalescents, or the mentally ill and disabled, dependent on constant custodial care. Perhaps there are a few who were discarded by their families. I shudder when I think about living in a house of strangers.
I live close to a nursing home and am familiar with what goes on there. Sitting in my kitchen I have often heard strange sounds coming from the rooms. The sounds are like the cries of a trapped and defenseless animal. It is hard to believe the sound is that of a human voice. I have often prayed to God to have mercy on the unfortunate person.
Over the years I met and became friends with some of the people who live in the nursing home. I will never forget the ''panty lady'' whom I knew only by sight. I gave her the nickname because many days I watched her come out the door and hang her panties on the fire-escape rail. She was so neat and diligent about her little chore, it caused me to chuckle as I watched from my window.
One particular day there was a dark and rainy gloom in the air, and when I saw the flashing lights of the police cars at the nursing home, I knew something was wrong. I asked one of the nurses what happened and she told me that one of the female residents had jumped off the fire escape. ''An apparent suicide,'' I heard someone say. ''Incredible,'' I thought and hoped that it was not the panty lady. Alas, it was. I still miss her.
One bitter cold morning I met Laura, a little frail lady, standing at my gate. She was wearing nothing but a flimsy gown and slippers on her bare feet. I rushed out to invite her inside. I put a blanket around her and gave her hot tea. She told me her name, that she was 93, and that she only wanted to visit me. I phoned the nursing home and informed them of Laura's unexpected visit. A nurse came and took her away.
I visited Laura many times after that and we became good friends. We enjoyed celebrating many occasions together. When Laura died, at 95, I was told that her death was due solely to old age. She had no known diseases or debilitating illness, and she had outlived all her relatives. A hospital tried to obtain Laura's body for medical research, but luckily her minister intervened. I was Laura's last friend and will always have fond memories of her.
Some of the residents at the home are quite active. They seem to get around well and often take walks in the neighborhood. I have watched some of them play like children, hiding from the attendants behind parked cars and bushes. Once I saw one of them hop a bus. On warm days they sit on the front porch. They seem to be happy and content. It takes only a cheery ''hello'' from a passer-by to put a smile on their faces. Having a visitor perks them up, especially the people who bring their pets.
Yet I wonder if ever I'll be forced to reside in a nursing home. Will I be bedridden? Will I be physically or mentally disabled? An incurable invalid or just plain aged so that my family doesn't want me around any longer? How will I feel about living with strangers? To be shut away from the world I know and love, forgotten by family and friends? What kind of sounds will I make? Will I be suicidal? Will I find a special friend? I wonder about it all and get depressed.
Living with such fears is absurd! Facing the fact that we can't avoid the inevitable, we must accept whatever life brings, live in the ''now'' and let the future take care of itself.
Helen Monico lives in Lauraville.