Lunch & Old Friends


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A memory of mine from two years ago:

I had taken a few of my residents out to lunch when I noticed a woman across the restaurant quietly observing us. It’s not uncommon for me to get a few looks or smiles when I’m out with my residents, but this woman looked as though she wanted to speak to us.

A minute passed, and the woman from across the room walked over to our table. She was older, perhaps in her late 70s. She smiled at one of my residents, Ruth, and gently touched her on the shoulder.

“You look so familiar to me. I know you from somewhere,” the woman said. Ruth looked up at her. “You look familiar, too!” she responded.

“What is your name?” the woman asked Ruth. Ruth told her, and the woman smiled. “My husband worked with you at the department store down the road for years. Do you remember James Quinn?” the woman asked Ruth.

I bit my lip. She doesn’t know that Ruth has dementia, I thought. Fortunately, Ruth’s long-term memory is very much intact.

“Oh! James Quinn! He is such a lovely man! He was my manager at the department store,” she smiled, clutching the woman’s hand.

The woman’s eyes twinkled and she held Ruth’s fingers in hers. “He was a wonderful husband,” she said. “Unfortunately, he passed away last year.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Ruth replied.

The woman told Ruth a couple more stories. Ruth smiled and asked questions.

“Now, your husband…did you say that he had passed away?” Ruth asked.

The woman looked slightly confused. “Well, yes, sadly, he died last year. A long battle with cancer,” she explained.

The two exchanged a couple more words and gave each other a hug. The woman left the restaurant.

Ruth turned to me. “I didn’t have the heart to ask if her husband James was still alive,”  she whispered, eyes wide.

“I’m sure he’s doing fine,” I replied, softly.

“I hope so. He was such a nice man,” Ruth said, thoughtfully.

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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 two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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