I want you to participate in an imaginary conversation with me. Let me be clear. These are just examples, hypothetical conversations.
First, let’s imagine you have gray hair. You are sitting with two people who are conversing. One person gestures toward you and says, ” Now that is why I don’t want to get gray. Can you imagine being like that? I would rather not live a long life if I have to be gray like that.”
And the other person says, ” I know, I hope I never get gray like that. It would be just the worst.”
How would you feel? Would you be hurt? Or angry? Appalled at the rudeness of the two individuals? Would you want to say ” I can hear you , you know!”
Or imagine this conversation. Let’s say you are Asian ( or maybe African-American, or Hispanic, or Caucasian, or green or purple or blue) and one individual says as she gestures toward you, “Now that is why I don’t want to be Asian ( or African-American, or Hispanic or Caucasian or green or purple or blue). I would rather not live a long life if I have to be like that. ”
And the other person answers, ” I know, I hope I never get like that. It would be just the worst.”
Again, what would be your reaction to those two individuals talking about you, as though you were not present, and making the case that who you are, or a characteristic about you is ” the worst”?
Now this was the real conversation that occurred yesterday at the assisted living where my mother resides. I was sitting in my mother’s room with her and her door was ajar. Outside in the hallway, seated by Mother’s door were a new resident, let’s call her Janet, and her private caregiver. Standing, was a staff member of the facility. My mother and I were in direct earshot and could hear the entire conversation. In fact, from where I sat, I could also see them.
Janet was fairly new to the facility and her dementia was much more advanced than my mother’s. I had been observing her for the past two weeks when I visited. While well dressed and groomed, she was quite confused. She would frequently ask for her daughter. At mealtime in the dining room, she worried that she should not eat the meals served to her as she had no money and could not pay for them. The staff and other residents seated at her table would reassure her that ” it’s been taken care of”. She continually asked about her purse. She would search under the table and around her seat wondering where her purse might be. She would knock on other residents’ doors to ask if they had seen her daughter.
Yesterday morning as they sat in the hallway, Janet commented to her private caregiver and the staff member, “How long do we have to be here? Where is my daughter? What am I supposed to be doing? It seems like I should be doing something?”
The staff member informed her, ” Honey, you don’t have to do anything. You are at Green Tree Assisted Living and I am your nurse. I am going to give you your medicine.”
My mother looked at me and rolled her eyes. My mother’s dementia is still in the early stages. She has little patience for those who ” don’t have their minds”, as she puts it. She will frequently comment that ” I am grateful I still have my mind.”
The staff member than said to Janet’s private caregiver, ” Now, this is why I would not want to live to be old. If I would get like that, it just would not be worth it.”
The private caregiver said, ” I know, me too, It would be just the worst thing. So, is she about the worst one you have here? I mean, do you have others who are this bad?”
The staff member answered, ” Yes, she’s about the worst we have on this floor. Oh, some of them have some dementia, but right now, yes, she’s the worst.”
My mother looked at me again. This time her look was of concern and pity…and something else. I think it was fear.
I got up and closed her door.
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