In another era, one with a much slower pace than ours, every one knew how long a social call should be. There were strict rules based on your status, your relationship and your purpose. The world has changed a lot since then and I’m awfully glad I don’t have to wear a bustle, but those little ladies with their calling cards and tea didn’t have it all wrong.
The basic social call was fifteen minutes. It was perfectly acceptable to pop-in on an acquaintance, chat for the allotted time and move on to the next call. Caller and callee knew what to expect and what to do. It was a good thing. I didn’t realize how proper this behavior was until the last few months.
My Aunt Edie is one of the most popular people in Temple, Texas. Now that she’s been diagnosed with cancer and put on hospice, many of her friends and acquaintances are still eager to visit. Aunt Edie loves having her friends drop by and appreciates feeling like she’s a part of the larger world, but there’s a problem – people stay too long.
I can understand why. I know how hard it is to make time for a social call. There’s the getting dressed, the traffic and perhaps you’ve even taken time to find a small gift. After all the effort it takes to get there, some part of your mind tells you that you need to make the most of the visit. In the first few moments there’s a flurry of greetings. Hugs, exclamations and compliments. A seat is offered and refreshments are suggested. Maybe an item of discussion is immediately grasped upon or it could take a few minutes to warm up the conversation. Whichever way the visit goes, about ten minutes into it, things are really cooking.
For family members and care-givers this warm and fuzzy time is just the warm-up for running errands and completing household tasks, but for anyone just making a social call, after you’ve visited for ten minutes, it’s time to start wrapping things up. Sick people, elderly people and especially people on hospice don’t have the stamina to tolerate longer visits and they are so grateful for your attention that they’d never tell you. Some diseases will announce themselves with coughing, nausea or other symptoms that warn a visitor to hightail it, but the visitor can’t count on these clues. Pain and fatigue can be invisible, especially if the person being visited thinks masking their difficulty is the polite and correct thing to do. It’s up to the visitor to monitor themselves. Use the old Victorian Social Call of fifteen minutes as your guide and if you’re still there after thirty minutes, you’ve over-stayed your welcome.
Another battle faced by the ailing is the desire to participate in an event when they know they can’t make it there on their own. Almost every week Aunt Edie is invited to something she’d really like to attend, but in deference to others, she ends up not going. It’s not because she’s not given the opportunity to go. She’ll not only receive an invitation to the event, but several people will call to offer her a ride. Stamina is the problem once again.
Though it was certainly an honor that both the incoming and outgoing president of Aunt Edie’s service club called and offered rides to their installation recently, Aunt Edie turned both of them down. She knew they both needed to be there before and after the event, which included a cocktail party, a dinner and a business meeting. If instead, someone had called and said, “Edith, we want you at the installation. We’ll have someone come pick you up in time to enjoy the last few minutes of the cocktail party and then the dinner, but we’ll take you home right after dessert.” Or – “Will you be a part of the installation ceremony. We’ll deliver you to the event a few minutes before the ceremony and the second you get tired, we’ll take you right home.” Aunt Edie would still have protested that she didn’t want to be any trouble, but she would have been a lot more likely to go.
If there are people in your life who have been incapacitated by medical problems and/or age, they really do want to see you – in small spurts. Instead of making your visit a major production, fit it in during a lunch hour, on the way home or in between errands – and do that frequently. Your senior will be able to enjoy your short visits much more than they could one you took up an entire afternoon with. And if you’d like to take them out into the world, sacrifice some of your own participation in an event to accommodate their reduced stamina. This small sacrifice will be a boon to someone who would otherwise be sitting at home.
What other “rules” should we follow with our senior citizens? How can we be-friend them and be friends at the same time?