Have you ever gone somewhere where you didn't know a single person? For an introvert like myself, that's a stretching experience that leaves me feeling exhausted. My first writer's conference, I flew into a huge city alone, and found my way to the shuttle bus at the airport. The hotel was overpowering, with moving sidewalks and meeting rooms by the score. I put on my name tag and ventured forth among the masses. No one knew me. I knew no one. With a parched throat, I squeaked "Hello" to a few people.
Across the room, a hand beckoned me--my writing mentor from a course I just completed. I could have hugged her. In fact, I did hug her. That one small connection gave me the courage to shake hands and talk to the many people I didn't know.
Connectedness is essential to well-being. The Eden alternative says:
"CONNECTEDNESS—belonging; engaged; involved; connected to time, place, and nature."1
My first introduction to connectedness when working among residents with dementia was somewhat startling. "This is my mother," said the lady beside me, introducing me to a woman who looked only slightly older. I looked from one to the other in disbelief, but even as a newbie, I knew enough to smile and go along with it. Both women seemed to agree with the relationship. The one answered to "Mother!" when her friend spoke to her, and they moved around the room arm-in-arm, so who was I to question?
I did question, though. Privately, I asked one of the nurses, who laughed at me. "No, of course not. They're almost the same age. Maybe Mavis resembles Jean's mother, and now Jean believes she is her mother, so what's the harm?
That was my first exposure to the power of connectedness. Jean had family who weren't thrilled with the relationship, but went along. As a single lady with few connections, Mavis had no on visiting her. They both benefitted.
Friendship is essential to well-being. Most elders are proud of their families and love them beyond measure. Those connections are essential. But friends are peers, and a visit from a friend is gold.
Connections between elders is key. Marg doesn't often leave her room, so Joan sits with her and they chat. Joan gets anxious, so Linda engages her in conversation. All the ladies at table five worry when Gertie doesn't show up for meals. Evelyn is physically disabled, but is a friend to Herb, who is cognitively impaired. These kind of connections send an important message. You are needed. An elder who is experiencing multiple physical challenges can feel they are not worth anything any more. Connectedness says, that's not true.
Alice's dementia and hearing deficit, not to mention her poor eyesight, make communication sparse. She'll answer when spoken to, but only a few words. But when Phoebe, a beautiful white puppy, arrives, Alice lights up. She sits and pets the little fur ball, and her eyes glow. She is connected.
Gloria loved nothing better than to sit in the garden on a warm day, with her face lifted to the sun. It brings her peace. She is connected.
Identity and connected to work together to defeat the first plague--that of loneliness. If I know you, we can connect, and I neither of us is lonely.
And sometimes it's about humour.
Travis, who was virtually blind, leaned across the table to talk to Freda. "You are pretty." Freda's face lit up with one of her winning smiles.
"Travis," I whispered across the table, "Are you flirting?"
Ignoring me completely, he looked in Freda's eyes and said, "I am flirting with you."
Now that's connection!