Heres an unfunny riddle. When is the beginning of a conversation also the end? When it happens between 2 residents of an assisted living home. My almost 98-year-old mother tries so valiantly to strike up a conversation with fellow residents, but her efforts are usually futile. Its very sad to witness. After saying her name and asking for the other persons name, the thread of the conversation dies away. Neither one can think of anything else to say. Where did you live before you came here? might be met with a blank stare. And How long have you lived here? doesnt work either, because neither one can remember. Then theres the issue of hearing loss. My name is Gina, shell say, and you are? The other woman says What? Mother repeats her question. Then the other lady says her name, but my mother cant hear what the other woman says.
On Mondays, I have lunch with my mother and her table mates. I make conversation. I mean that literally. I try to engage them in reminiscing. Then I talk about what I did that morning and my plans for the rest of the day and maybe something about what I heard on the news. If theyve heard what I said, they might make some kind of reply, like Oh really? and then there might be long periods of silence, while I try to think of something else to entertain them with. They like it when I come for lunch, because then there is something to talk about at the table besides they never put salt in anything, or Spinach again? I like to go on Mondays, because thats when a volunteer named Sandy conducts a little discussion group after lunch. She reads a paragraph or 2 from an inspirational book and then tries to engage the little group of women in conversation. Its mostly Sandy doing the talking, but on a good day, the ladies will participate with comments of their own. I love the way Sandy turns this session into a conversation, and Ive patterned the Red Hat meetings after her style. You might say its an orchestrated exchange of thoughts and ideas. For instance, Sandy might begin with something like, Do you ever get annoyed with somebody when they arent friendly to you? I do. Like the other day, I. At the Red Hat meeting a few weeks ago, I told them about my hiking trip in NH, and then I encouraged them to talk about their favorite vacations when they were young. Like the conductor of an orchestra, I point to the various players and cue them in, urging them to express the music in turn. Years ago, I might have said to any one of them, I went hiking with 9 other women last week. We had a wonderful time. And they might have joined in saying, Oh, I know how it is when you have really close women friends who like to do the same things you do. And so off wed go in sharing our experiences. But now, with dementia muddling their ability to continue a line of thought, a third party needs to step in and help toss the ball back and forth. Its an odd place to be, facilitating a casual dialog.
Today, the woman who recently moved into the apartment next door to my mothers stopped by to say hello. With my mothers permission, I invited her in to sit down and get acquainted. When I was a shy little girl with no friends, my mother probably invited the little girl next door to come in and play. Now here we are, with roles reversed, in yet another way. Mom, ever the hostess, is now planning ways she can make this woman feel welcome. Shes going to invite her to go with her to this Fridays Happy Hour. A new best friend? Maybe, if they can remember each others names.