The halls are empty. I wonder if that is what makes the residents at Mom’s retirement home feel lonely. No one to talk to. No one to listen to. Each resident closeted in their rooms. I made the mistaken assumption that all of the elderly are lonely. Turns out it is true for some, not so much for others.
My 98-year-old mother is alone in her room feeling lonely. Somehow, she found her way down the long hall to the front desk looking for company. The staff let her sit in the chair behind the desk and gave her the Wall Street Journal to read. (She reads the words but not much is retained). Eventually, if I hadn’t arrived, they would have sent her back down the hall to the dining room.
I began a poll of the residents when they emerged for meals. Did they feel lonely? What did they do about it?
It was Lady M who triggered my questions. The four-top Domino Players had commented that they felt so sorry for her. She would come out of her room, and sit forlornly beside their table and watch the domino game. She had no one to talk to, they told me, and nothing to do.
Lady J, over the years at the residential facility, had become good friends with four other fellow residents. They had played bridge, gone out to dinner, shared family stories, become best friends. Slowly, one after the other, they died leaving Lady J alone. She was feeling lonely as a result. It was hard recuperating from the losses.
Lady D, Mom’s table companion, admits she does get lonely. She says she walks the halls, empty though they are, to ease the isolation. She sits and waits for meals, willing to talk to whoever comes along. Not everyone who comes along is able to converse. She would like to talk to Mom but Mom can’t hear and doesn’t respond even though they sit across the table from each other at meals.
Perhaps a few others are lonely, but on closer inspection, our elderly residents have created their own world here at the residential facility.
Lady B, she of the broken hip, now surgically repaired, but still in her wheel chair, says she never feels lonely. She has things to do. She has her weekly appointment with the beauty salon (can you believe she has been having her hair done in a beauty parlor since she was NINE?), plus there is her manicure and pedicure, her physical therapy, her doctor visits and visits from her son. She maintains he harasses her about driving her car so she has told him to mind his own business. Okay, so much for hovering.
Lady D, the petite, pert, pretty President of the Red Hat Society is always busy. She is the queen bee of the Junior League table. She is officious, helpful to everyone, fills out menus, attends funerals, and is too busy to be lonely.
Lady M, hobbling slowly along on her cane, worries about which of her many activities to give up. She is so busy she is exhausting herself. She really MUST cut back, she tells me, but it is hard to decide. She certainly doesn’t have time to be lonely.
The various husband and wife pairs don’t seem to be lonely either. They bring each other meals if one decides to sleep in. One wife laughed and shook her head with a shrug at some comment by her husband. That was just the way he was, she said. She didn’t have time to be lonely while keeping track of him.
Lady J insisted to her son that he didn’t need to come visit. She remembered all too clearly the hours, months and years that she put in to taking care of her own mother. She was doing fine, she said, and didn’t want to burden her son. She has friends at the facility and plenty to do, she told him, and her son has his own life to take care of. She wasn’t lonely either.
The result of my poll is that the majority of our elderly are not lonely. They have created their own world here at the residential facility. There is sadness when someone dies, of course, but for the most part, there are plenty of ailments—their own and other’s—to gossip about and plenty of activities to keep them busy.
Last week the staff brought in the Girl Scouts to “entertain” the residents by playing bingo with them. The Girl Scouts had some kind of badge they needed to earn by helping the elderly. Lady B rolled her eyes at the forty girls in the activity room. “Nice of them to come,” she said, “but what a racket!” She could have done without them. She wasn’t THAT lonely.
I was wrong. Loneliness, it seems, is not a condition. It is a choice.