Audrey had lived at the Home of the Good Shepherd for about six months now, and she was as lonely as the day she moved in.
Quiet and introverted by nature, Audrey had trouble introducing herself to people. Social situations had never been easy for her, and now, at her advanced age, and with her deteriorating mental abilities, it was harder than ever for her to socialize. Her dementia caused her to forget names and details– they slipped in and out of her mind like running water through your cupped hands. Nothing she did would make them stay put! Many of the other residents had little patience for her shyness, and even less for her mistakes. So mostly Audrey kept to her apartment and didn’t bother anyone.
Her apartment was the very last one at the end of the hallway. The one directly opposite her was vacant at the moment, so her living quarters were very quiet and solitary, not that she minded all that much. Audrey preferred the comfort of her apartment to the awkward social interactions she endured at mealtimes or in other common areas of the Home.
One Sunday afternoon, a great commotion out in the hallway told her that the vacant apartment across the hallway was vacant no longer–someone was moving in.
The elderly lady in the bright purple “notice me” sweater wasn’t just moving in– she was moving in with a vengence! Her businesslike and boisterous son (literally, Audrey could hear him down the hallway! How could anyone be so loud?!), and her smart, organized (and only slightly less loud) daughter were hauling furniture and boxes. They were arguing about the best arrangment for the furniture. Their aging mother stepped in to settle the matter, and the unpacking continued. Boxes and boxes and boxes of items! A tiny apartment, neat and tastefully furnished by the looks of the peices still sitting in the hallway. Audrey couldn’t believe all three personalities could FIT in the tiny spaces each resident called Home!
By the sounds of it, Mrs. Across the Hall was no shrinking violet– she too could be heard down the hallway, bossing her children with a practiced authority! Audrey opened her door a little– just a VERY little, in order to better hear what was going on. Still painfully shy, she didn’t want to draw too much attention to herself. The noisy unpacking continued, frequently punctuated by skirmishes between son and daughter, daughter and mother, son and daughter and mother, etc.
Around 2 o’clock, Marilyn, who was one of Audrey’s favorite nurses, came and knocked on the door. She wanted to remind Audrey that the afternoon program would be starting soon, in case Audrey wanted to attend. Audrey’s dementia made keeping to a schedule very difficult, so the staff frequently reminded her of mealtimes and events. She had even taken to leaving herself notes on the refigerator door. Her fridge was littered with post-it notes, bearing inscriptions like “Doctor Tuesday, 10am“, and “new milk in fridge, 4/10“. Some notes reminded her which clothing was out being laundered, and some reminded her of the times and channels of favorite TV programs.
Audrey declined to attend the program, preferring to listen to Mrs. Across the Hall’s moving-in-day ruckus. As the hours ticked by, things settled down across the hall. She could hear the son and the daughter unpack the final few items and prepare to leave for the night, assuring their mother they would return bright and early the next morning for a meeting with the doctor. Audrey heard the door click closed and the sound of television playing across the hall. With nothing left to do but wait for Marilyn to fetch her for dinner, Audrey allowed her mind to wander freely, and soon fell asleep.
The powerful knock on the door roused her from her catnap. She started towards the door to open it. “Hello!?” called an unfamiliar voice from the other side. Audrey nervously opened the door.
There stood Mrs. Across the Hall, still wearing the garish purple sweater, and now brandishing a shiny, multicolored walking cane, painted with hundreds of tiny metallic butterflies.
“I’m Betty, who are you?” the woman said. Clearly, Betty was accustomed to getting straight to the point.
“Audrey” she replied.
“Well it’s almost dinner time and I’m hungry. I don’t want to live here and I don’t see why I can’t live alone, but my kids are convinced this is the best and since they’re paying for it, that’s that, ” Betty declared.
“Oh…” Audrey replied, not sure of what to say in response. A moment’s silence passed.
“Well, ” Betty continued, “where do we go to eat?”
“I’ll show you, ” Audrey responded. She collected her own walnut walking cane, and closing her door the two of them set off down the hallway. Marilyn met them about halfway down the hall– she’d been coming to collect Audrey for dinner and to remind the newest resident what time the evening meal was served.
“Hello there ladies!” Marilyn called, surprised by cheery as usual. “Audrey I see you’ve met Betty, our newest resident. She’s living directly across the hall from you, but I guess you probably know that already?”
“What’s for dinner?” Betty asked. She’d worked as a cook for 20 years and was curious and eager to criticize the meals. Everything could be improved, that was Betty’s motto, and she delighted to describing to people exactly HOW various things could be improved, and by whom the improving should be done.
“Meat loaf,” Audrey found herself saying. She’d checked her meals calendar that morning, and miraculously, she’d remembered what it said.
“Oh good,” Betty replied. “This way, right Audrey?” Marilyn stepped aside and Betty tottered off down the hallway. Audrey trailed behind her into the dining room. They sat down together at a table. Betty was busy introducing herself to the lady already seated. It turned out they were from the same part of New York and had some things in common.
“And this is Audrey, ” Betty continued, “She lives across the hall from me. Do you know her?” She did recognize Audrey and the two ladies smiled politely. A kitchen aide began serving meatloaf…
The next morning, Marilyn knocked on Audrey’s door to deliver her morning medications. As she poured Audrey a glass of water with which to take her pills, she noticed a new Post-It on the refrigerator door.
“I have a friend. Betty, rm 206”.
This is a true story– Grandma Scribbler moved into her assisted living facility last week. Little Scribbler and I went up this weekend to visit her and see how she was adjusting. The nurse shared with us how Grandma Scribbler met her new friend Audrey. I was really really happy for Audrey and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it all day.
Grandma Scribbler is exactly as she’s been described– no nonsense, bossy, opinionated, and eager to socialize. She could make friends with a rabid blackbear, and then the very next day would be teaching him a more efficient way to hunt or something! Her Alzheimer’s is progressing, and affecting her ability to reason more and more every day, but generally speaking, I think she is pretty happy living where she is. She’s enjoying the activities, and enjoying the company. I appreciate your continued prayers for Grandma Scribbler, Audrey, and all the residents of this facility, many of whom are suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia– slowly losing their ability to reason, their memories, and in some cases their personal identities.