Today I witnessed something that made me shudder and think….G-damn this middle school mentality never ends. I was visiting an elderly client, she isn’t quite 80 yet, so not that old (the definition keeps getting pushed back…..pretty soon everyone will be young or middle aged until they reach triple digits then and only then will they be considered elderly). I was slightly horrified to realize how much an assisted living facility (ALF – wait, wasn’t that a TV show…) can mirror middle school.
The hallways are filled with seasonal decorations. Each apartment door is decked out for whatever holiday is up next. Some of these people get carried away and I think there must be some kind of secret contest or perhaps it gets discussed at dinner. Dinner is a big deal. The time and table placement of the reservation reflects some kind of ALF hierarchy which I have not yet decoded. My clients aren’t regulars in the dinning room and I think it’s decreasing their stock.
There are popular residents and those that struggle with physical issues and/or social anxiety. Don’t get me wrong, some of the more outgoing residents deal with physical and social issues, they just soldier through it and show up at dinner and bingo every chance they get. The introverted shy gals like my friend can get lost in the shuffle. Pair a quiet personality with a touch of dementia and the friend list gets anemic.
As we often do, Helen and I were playing table top shuffleboard in the lobby. We do this about twice and week and we both enjoy it. We were having fun, talking smack to each other and taking turns playing poorly, when a group sat at a nearby table. It started with just two people – Janet and Bob. Janet was talking about a recent hospital stay. She and Bob compared notes on blood thinners and MiraLAX. It was entertaining to listen to and not an uncommon conversation given the demographic.
Soon the two were joined by 3 more and the topic changed to a recent party. One of the ladies just had a blow out celebration for her birthday, a surprise party. Over 50 people attended and it took her more than an hour to read through all of the cards….she mentioned that no less than 3 times. I wanted to shout “we heard you the first two times Marge” but that seemed inappropriate. I could tell my shuffleboard partner was not happy. We played one more round, hearing details about a cake and how good the food was, then we headed upstairs to the apartment she shares with her husband.
As we were slowly shuffling out of there, my friend whispers “have you ever felt out of place?” to me. I knew she was upset about not being invited to the party. I got her upstairs and we talked it out a bit. I handled it the way I would with my kids who are both deep in the throes of middle school. First I validated her feelings. “Yes” I said, “I have felt out of place and it sucks. I’m sorry you are feeling that way.” Then I suggested a few things and gave the other people the benefit of the doubt. I said, “I don’t think they were discussing the party to make you feel bad. They were probably just rehashing the experience and not considering how it might make others feel.”
My friend was grateful but was still upset and I wanted to help her beyond this 20 minute conversation, if that is even possible. I suggested the same things I have to my daughter in similar situations. Insert yourself into the activities so you are not overlooked. Make it a point to go out and try new things. Go to dinner, bingo and think about focusing on one or two friends instead of trying to get into a larger social group.
The only thing worse than talking to your kids about the horrors of socializing in middle school….is talking to a nearly 80 year old about the same damn things. It broke me a bit but I kept it together. I gave her a hug, told her I loved her and that I would be back on Friday. Oh and I gave her a big bowl of ice cream because sometimes, ice cream gets you through the tough stuff.