Hi, "Joined: Fri Jan 21, 2005 10:24pm."
Perhaps we can draw another person or two into our dialogue, if I add the rest of what I remember (anyway, THINK I remember) about the novel in question, which is probably as likely to date from the 1980s as from the 1990s. In so doing, I will not (I believe) disincline any first-time reader from reading the book, should we ever manage to identify it. (The book is THAT good.) So, on that note...
In addition to the details that I mentioned in my first posting, consider these following points. In the novel in question, interspersed with scenes set in the nursing home, are scenes of destruction set in the depths of space, where great battle fleets are manned by beings of many worlds, beings who frequently die at their battle stations, not for lack of courage, but for lack of the kind of commanders they need. (Such commanders, we learn, are awaited from earth.) Also, toward the end of the novel, as the old man lies dying (hardly a surprise here: old men, particularly in nursing homes, DO die), during the night there appears in his room an officer in the uniform of the fleet, come to recognize the dying man for his service and to honor him for it. Is this officer's appearance merely another in a series of old man dreams (and the officer, maybe, just an imagined form of the angel of death)? Or are the officer and all the (maybe not after all imaginary) dreams the reality? This, you must decide for yourself; the author does not decide for you. And so good is this book, what you decide after a first reading may or may not be what you decide after a second reading, or a third.
The details that I've added in the above paragraph--especially the reference to scenes set in the depths of space, and to a need of awaited commanders from earth--might understandably lead someone to think of John D. MacDonald's BALLROOM OF THE SKIES (published in 1952, before MacDonald turned from science fiction to detective novels, gaining reputation for his Travis McGee character in particular). BALLROOM OF THE SKIES, though dated in many details, is still worth reading--especially if you mentally substitute China for his Pak-India, and substitute something like the 2040s for his 1970s. But BALLROOM OF THE SKIES is not the novel sought; the sought, yet-to-be-identified novel has a timelessness that MacDonald's novel lacks.