Loneliness & soup

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I was killing time at the grocery store. Really, I was also hungry, but I would’ve been eating at my house if my friend wasn’t at a nearby doctor’s appointment. And so, I was stuck in an unfamiliar part of town, waiting for him.

And so I ended up in the Giant Eagle grocery store. And then in their Self-Serve Soup & Salad area. I stood behind a very petite woman in her 80s as she poured hot soup into a to-go container.

I glanced at her cart. It had another to-go container, presumably of salad, and then something else small. That was it.

She finished filling up her soup container and paused, putting it down slowly. She glanced around. I watched as this small, fragile-looking person walked up to the sales counter and stood behind a woman in line about twice her size. She popped up onto her toes, trying to see around the other woman to the sales counter.

I looked back at her soup, sans to-go lid. She seemed overwhelmed, ignored by the sales counter, and wandered back to her soup debacle. I held up a lid. “I read your mind,” I smiled.

“Oh! Yes,” she said, taking it from me. “Thank you,” she smiled, and put the lid on top of the soup container. She moved it around. She flipped it over. She pushed it down, her arthritic hands and fingers struggling.

“Do you want me to help you?” I asked.

“Please,” she agreed. “My hands…” the woman began.

I snapped the lid on with relative ease and passed her the container. She smiled. “Thank you very much.”

The woman walked away, pushing a big cart full of three items. I found myself hoping that she had a friend or spouse waiting at home for her; or that, perhaps, this was only the beginning of her shopping trip, that she would get more items. More items, it felt like, would justify that big cart. Or maybe it would somehow make it less sad.

I love working in dementia care, but I find myself wanting to do something for these older adults who live in isolation, dementia or not. Loneliness is an epidemic in the aging community.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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