Tag Archive | loneliness

No One

Yesterday was the annual holiday party at my mom’s care home. I stopped at the bank for crisp bills to put in the Christmas cards I was giving to the staff and arrived a few minutes late. Mom was sitting at a card table with two chairs, wearing a festive red top that was her Christmas gift from the owner of the facility. I kissed her hello and took the seat across from her. Looking around, I was happy to see that no one was sitting alone and each of the residents had at least one visitor with them at their table.

It’s a weird sort of party because the visitors never seem to talk to each other, just to the loved one they’ve come to visit and to the staff. But during dessert, a slightly built older woman approached our table while my mom was in the bathroom. “You’re Dorothy’s daughter, aren’t you?” I nodded and we introduced ourselves, shaking hands. “They tell me your mother is very kind to Jenny and talks to her. Thank you.” I shrugged off her thanks, telling her that my mom is very social and is happy to have someone to chat with.

The woman, who I initially guessed might be Jenny’s sister, shook her head sadly. “It’s so hard to see her like this. Jenny was always so well informed, and now…” She trailed off and I nodded sympathetically. It is hard. The woman went on to tell me that Jenny was a librarian for many years and, back in the 1970s, a labor organizer. “I was the head librarian,” she explained. “She worked for me for many years. After she retired, she worked part-time at the senior center until a couple of years ago.” She further explained that Jenny has no family except two brothers, one in Seattle and the other overseas.

I was touched that she had come to visit Jenny, to share the holiday party with her, despite her apparent discomfort with the dementia that has reduced her articulate, well-informed colleague to a state of childlike dependence. I was struck by, as hard as it is to deal with a parent or grandparent with dementia, how much harder must it be to see a PEER in that state. There but for the grace of God, and all that.

Later, as I was getting ready for my next holiday party, I kept thinking about Jenny who has no family around, no one to look out for her best interests. I don’t have kids, or a husband anymore, so this could well be me someday. It’s a sobering thought. I don’t know how Jenny ended up in this board and care, but I’m glad that she did because I know the staff, and I trust that she’s getting the same good care that my mom gets — even without a daughter to check up on her and advocate for her. Still, she must get lonely. When we get back from our holiday travels, I’m going to make a point to check on Jenny whenever I visit.

 

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Mom and me: Don’t we look festive?

 

 

 

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I wish I could adopt him

Yesterday evening my mom’s facility had a New Year’s Eve dinner party. They served a special meal (choice of lamb or shrimp scampi) and champagne. There were party hats and noisemakers on all the tables. At the end of the meal, we toasted with our champagne and sang “Auld Lang Syne.” It was all over by 6:00 p.m.

I enjoyed sharing those moments with Mom and her table mates. The ladies at the next table were having a good time with their noisemakers. One of them, a frail little thing who I think has Alzheimer’s, kept saying “Happy birthday! Happy birthday!” She also showed a great deal of interest in Dominic’s “Happy New Year!” party hat, which he insisted on giving to me since he was already wearing his usual baseball cap. The other gentleman at our table teased Dominic about the attention he was getting from the next table, saying “She loves you.” When Dom looked like he didn’t know how to take this remark, I smiled and said “Everyone loves you, Dominic.”

“The people who condemned me to this place didn’t love me,” he said flatly. Oh dear. I was just trying to be friendly and I walked right into a field of emotional landmines. Gently, I steered the conversation another direction and got Dominic talking about when he used to be a professional sax player. I enjoyed talking with him about jazz clubs and the famous players he’d sat in with, all the while keeping one eye on my mom who was having trouble with her shrimp scampi. (“Those noodles might be easier to eat if you cut them.”)

After “Auld Lang Syne” was sung and we’d all toasted to the new year, Dominic sighed and pushed back his chair. “Well, we survived another day in paradise.” Everyone chuckled a bit at that. Dom looked at me across the table and said “Being in this place, I’m beginning to understand why some people commit suicide. It’s hard. It’s so hard.”

Oy. Watch out for my emotional landmines there, Dom. But, of course, he doesn’t know. I’ve talked about my late husband (who also played tenor sax) but I’ve never told anyone at the facility that he killed himself.

And I think Dominic was only talking. God, I HOPE he was only talking… But it breaks my heart that he feels “condemned” to a place that is hard to endure, that no one comes to visit him. And I wish I could adopt him, do more for him than just share the occasional conversation over a meal… but I barely have enough time to attend to my own mother’s needs.