senior man in wheelchair enjoying listening to music as he looks at his smartphone
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of North East Chicago

When Pandemic Small Talk Is Big

home caregivers in Chicago

If you’re like me, the pandemic has left a hole in your heart. It’s a void filled by simple conversation with others, especially strangers who generously share a slice of their lives to remind us we’re human and alive. Details of others’ experiences, rich upon comparison, subtly teaching us without a classroom or a textbook. We learn through others’ visions; it’s no wonder, today, and almost every day during the pandemic, that I hunger for your story or his story or their story.

Sure, I exchange friendlies with the grocery store cashier, but that’s the extent of talking to people outside of my family and friends I communicate with virtually. I’ve small-talked with cashiers, pharmacists, and doctors. I’ve driven through the car wash, zero communication with the operator except for the thumbs-up sign when my car began the pull through the colorful downpour that only a drive-through car wash can provide—just happy to see another human. I’m not sure that cashiers and other essential service providers realize that their words, even when they share what they’re having for dinner, touches many, including me.

“I don’t believe the wife and husband will ever fathom the joy they gave to me on this most average of days.”

Yesterday, while picking up a prescription, the pharmacist suggested I get my flu shot. Agreed, I went to the flu shot lounge to wait and was delighted to see two other seniors waiting for their flu shots. I was thrilled because I had the opportunity to speak with two strangers, six feet apart. How serendipitous!

My life-long affinity for the wisdom that seniors carry, coupled with a coronavirus-induced need for conversation with someone outside my friend zone were the catalysts for me to strike up a chat with this sweet couple. 

At 90 years old, the petite, white-haired matriarch could be an LL Bean model for a senior clothing line— impeccably, yet casually dressed. Her paisley mask was illuminated by her bright white hair; I couldn’t see her smile, but I felt it.

Her husband, clad in his olive green mask, was a thin man, neatly dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes. He was reserved at first but jumped right into our impromptu senior party conversation as we exchanged stories, asked questions, and even shared a few family photos.

“Look at us having a party at the pharmacy,” I said.

Have you ever met someone and felt an immediate connection—in lockstep with each other as if you’d known them for a long time? That’s how I felt with these two nonagenarians. 

Although we never exchanged names or obligatory pleasantries, we did share immediately relatable slices of our lives. Their words were warm, and they spoke in an inclusive manner that made me feel welcomed.

My heart beamed being able to have this lovely impromptu visit. Being with them was akin to walking into your home, throwing your keys in the valet, then looking up and seeing dozens of smiling, happy friends shouting, “Surprise!” 

I don’t believe the wife and husband will ever fathom the joy they gave to me on this most average of days. When I think about it, that’s how joy should be—magically delivered without expectation. It’s like receiving a package full of your most treasured treasures from sender unknown—a gift that will continue to talk and sing for years to come.

The adored wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother confided that her wish was for everyone to wear masks. “It’s not fair that some choose to forego masks in public. I’m in my nineties and can’t afford to get the virus. It could be the end of my life. That’s why we’re very selective as to where we go. The drugstore feels comfortable to us, but that’s about it. We don’t go to any other public places except the grocery, really,” she said. But at 90 years old, with a lifetime of happy memories and an eagerness to make more, they are further isolated by those who choose not to wear a mask. 

“Look at us having a party at the pharmacy,” I said. They giggled, and the wife said, “I never thought I’d get excited about having a flu shot, but it’s great to be able to get out of the house, explore what we may have taken for granted before, and to talk to people. We get lonely, just the two of us.”

Her husband finally piped up and said, “This and the grocery store are the only times we see other people.” I thought he was cute. When I looked at him, I could feel him as a little boy, a young man, a father—crossing the years, climbing the decades, morphing into the man he is today. Secretly, I thought to myself, “This is why we gradually gain weight as we grow into our senior years; we need extra room to hold the rich memories and life stories that we collect throughout our lives, and those yet to come.

Our conversation was interrupted as the pharmacist entered the lounge.  She accepted our invitation to join our flu shot soiree and continued setting up her injection station for the three of us. Mr. and Mrs. commented that she must have been a butterfly in a past life, as the tiny woman fluttered about the lounge as though she could fly. And her smile surely was as wide as you’d expect of someone who could fly. By this time, we were entertaining the pharmacist with demands for lollipops and stickers after our shots. She played right along with us. Three seniors, acting like kids and enjoying the company of strangers. 

I was a little sad when I left the couple in the lounge. Would I ever see them again? Probably not, but the memory will remain in my heart.

Since our party, I’ve shared this story with my “pandemic regulars,” including thoughts of the impact the lovely couple made on me in just 15 minutes.  I realized that others touch us mostly without actually touching at all.  Try remembering the last service representative who went above and beyond to make you happy—a great example of being touched without physically being touched. The more I thought about it, the more I understood that there’s an infinite amount of ways that others can enjoy a touch.

This sweet little slice of life shared in a pharmacy lounge has reminded me that we can cross any bridge by touching others through an open mind and heart.

Thank you, my new friends, for reminding me that people truly are gifts. 

PSjust kidding about the weight gain. Memories weigh nothing. You’ll have to find something else to blame the weight gain on!

Throughout the pandemic and beyond, the leading home caregivers in Chicago and nearby areas at SYNERGY HomeCare are here for you with a wide range of trusted in-home care services, including friendly companionship to help brighten each day for seniors. Contact us at 877-432-2692 to learn more about how we can improve life for an older adult you love.