I was not invisible at lunch today. I was the star attraction.
G'ma and I had some family errands to run so I dropped by her pod-castle to collect her after lunch. My timing was a bit off, though, and when I got there the residents were still seated at their round tables in their comfortable chairs, awaiting their noontime repast. Salads had been served and consumed and removed - except for G'ma's since she likes to munch on her lettuce as she's having her main course - and the 4 of them were waiting. And waiting. And waiting. The deaf one and the querulous one and G'ma and the newcomer with the quiet voice were sitting patiently, watching the cloud in the sky drift across the window. Then a little wren landed on the outer windowsill and we were all amused for another little while. And still they waited.
I shared my cell phone's screen saver shot of Thomas, our Grand-Dog, and tried to find a topic of conversation. And I failed. They enjoyed the picture of the beast, but no one made any attempt to go beyond "Oh, my, how cute." As they waited for the main course, I wondered if they were also waiting for the conversation to continue. Just as with lunch, they were assuming no responsibility to see that it got done; they just waited. And so I jumped into the gap. "He lives in Chicago with my daughter and her wonderful boyfriend." "He's just learned to swim and they are very proud of him." "His name is Thomas; does that mean that they'll name their first son Fido?" That last one got a laugh; the others were dropped into a well of silence.
Asking questions is a risky business in an old folks home. In the here and now they are just fine. Calling up information is another story entirely. I've learned to avoid starting sentences with "Do you remember when..." since that just makes for an anxious pause. No, they don't remember. Not the ones at G'ma's table, anyway. They notice, they judge, they smile and they eat. They don't initiate much at all.
Except if it has to do with the food. When the main course finally arrived it was greeted with some skepticism. Identifying the squares of meat was the first task, as the ladies shook their heads and pushed the small squares around. There was orzo and a tomato slice and a wedge of pita, but the meat was a mystery until one of the worker bees told us that it was lamb. That may well have been true; none of us could confirm or deny it. We all agreed that it was tough.... chewy ..... hard to swallow ... and impossible to cut. No, the newcomer didn't want my help in cutting it. She just wanted to say, out loud and to someone who would listen, that it couldn't be cut.
And I didn't mind hearing her tell me that fact every few minutes. Nor did I mind G'ma asking "what is this, again?" I kept them company and answered the questions and watched the cloud and I felt very grateful that they were all pleasantly occupied with the task at hand. I tried not to feast on the sorrow creeping around the edges of my soul.... that ache for the mom I used to have. But that mom was very happy in her own world, just as this one is, today. G'ma never went out to lunch with the girls. She would make herself lunch and sit in the kitchen, under the window, facing into the house, with a book propped up on the table before her.
I always wondered why she didn't choose to look outside, toward the tree and the yard and the sky. Can I be profound and psychobabble-ish? Let me posit that her focus was always inward, toward her family and the things which affected them (schools, scouts, groceries, laundry), rather than out to the political or social or family world around them. She was connected to her parents but ignored her brother and his family. We'd see them for holidays, but that was with her whole family in tow. I never knew her to call him just to say "hi," never came home to find him sharing coffee and conversation around that kitchen table.
She always seemed very comfortable being alone with herself, although I won't go so far as to say that she didn't miss having friends. I never asked her and now I'm not sure she'd remember. (Note to those of you with sentient mothers: Ask these questions today.) But I don't think that I'm failing her as she sits alone in the company of strangers. My memories of her don't really include other people. True or not, I've convinced myself that she is happy when she's not being bothered by others, and that the lack of a lively lunchtime companion is just not a problem for her.
I look at these four solitary old women, each of whom occasionally exhibits flashes of who she was before, and I marvel that they are able to muster the courage to face another day. Their lives are dwindling as are their bodies. Yet they watched the little wren with such intensity, they followed the cloud with what I can only describe as reverence, that I wonder if, perhaps, there's not another thread which they are feeling, a quantum connection between people who are aware of the world in a softer, less frantic way. With fewer distractions, they focus on the smaller things, the broader pictures, and allow themselves to go with the flow.
They really didn't need me to provide a soundtrack for their meal. That was my issue. Once they got past the inedible lamb and on to the lemon meringue pie the quality of the silence changed and gradually grew into appreciative smiles and mmmmmm's of delight. They smiled at one another, they licked their spoons like naughty kids at a birthday party and then laughed at themselves for the charade and they were there, with each other, in the moment.
I may have started out as the star attraction, but, in the end, they had each other. And that was enough.