Have you ever been talking to one person about something while yet, turning to talk to another person about something entirely different? The other night, I was standing outside in the cold with a group of friends, chatting about a whole lot of nothing while watching a late season softball game. The conversation went like this:
Matt: I am freezing to death.
Dee: It is cold out here. I can’t wait to go home and take a warm bath.
Me: Oh yeah, anything to warm up.
Sam: I’m going home and getting in my jacuzzi. The water is set at 120 degrees. Boiling!
Jeff ( just joining group). We had two boilers go down at work. Who has boiler trouble?
Diane: ( joining group) Who is in trouble? I have a great lawyer if you need one. He worked miracles in my divorce.
Each of us turned to see who Tammy was talking to, unsure of her place in the conversation. Tammy stood there, awaiting an answer on who was divorcing who.
Diane: I have a great lawyer if you need one.
Tammy: Who? Me? I am not even married, so not me.
Mike ( joining convo) Who is getting married?
Okay, you see the point. This conversation about how cold it was outside, changed course with each new person piping in the conversation. The original conversation was simply about “ warming up“, not divorce, not marriage, not boilers ( whatever they are), and not about trouble of any kind…….One person merely commented on how cold they had become while standing out in the weather……nothing more, nothing less.
For a moment, I felt as if I were at the facility, with a multitude of dementia patients, each lost in their own conversation. I smiled to myself and continued to watch the ball game. Tammy could not let go of the topic, or the subject, or whatever it was she thought we were discussing before she joined the conversation.
” Jessi, are Bob and Cindy the ones getting a divorce? I could tell something was wrong with them the last few times I have seen them. Gosh, it is so sad. It seems like they have been married forever. I wonder what happened?” With that said, she sighed heavily.
I turned to face her, eyeball to eyeball. I felt that for me to communicate with her effectively, I needed to have her hear me, acknowledge what I said, and declare her understanding back to me.
” Tammy, I do not have a clue about Bob and Cindy. I have not heard anything about a divorce, between them or anyone else……no clue.”
You would have thought the matter was cleared up……but it wasn’t. She, to this day, is convinced hat someone on the ball team is getting a divorce…….she just doesn’t know who.
Here is the thing. We as humans mostly hear what we think we heard. When we engage with another in conversation, do we find ourselves listening, or searching for the right thing to say back while pretending to listen? It becomes a tennis match of words bouncing back and forth…….conversation. You speak, I speak…your turn, my turn……..your turn, my turn………..
Somewhere in the conversation, the meaning is lost. Boilers? Marriage? Divorce? Trouble? Lost? Who is lost? Are you lost?………. See what I mean?
In dealing with dementia patients, I listen very closely to what they are saying. Do you know why? Because I can’t conjure up my reply before they are done speaking……I have to listen, really listen, to see where their story is going to take me. They may be talking about going home…..( I have to listen to see if a hint is dropped of which home.. childhood home?…military home….which home….last house called home? Which one?) Once I determine the route of the conversation, I then can reply…..
What if we all stopped listening, just to listen? Listening while the person speaking spoke to us, absorbing what was being spoken…..not bracing for a reply, ready for a “turn” to speak…….What if we did more than “caught part of the conversation” and heard enough to be able to reply?