An Imaginary Friend


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“Oh, she just came in here to get me,” Violet whispered, talking about me. There was no one else in her room.

Violet was laying in bed, staring upwards. She spoke softly, happily, to someone I could not see, someone that was between her and the ceiling.

“Who are you talking to?” I asked her gently, afraid to disturb her conversation.

“Oh, it’s my friend,” she said, nodding to the ceiling. “I haven’t talked to him in a long time, and he just called me." 

Violet seemed almost embarrassed that I caught her speaking to the ceiling. She would speak, then pause, as if she could hear an answer. Then she would talk again. 

It was hard to hear Violet’s words, and I had the distinct feeling that I was invading a private conversation—however unreal it actually was. I began to walk slowly out of the room. 

Although it was odd, Violet’s behavior didn’t really worry me. Normally we would want to check a resident’s urine for a UTI, or perhaps ensure that they weren’t experiencing some delirium. But it seemed almost as though Violet recognized that her friend was not physically there, like she was engaging in something spiritual—or maybe speaking to a deceased friend.

She noticed my exit and turned her head to me. She wiped tears from her eyes.

"I miss him,” Violet said. “It’s good to hear from him now.”

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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