To listen is to care, to be empathic. A little listening can spark hope, friendship and safety for the sad and the scared. One does not need to be a clinician to be a good listener. Imagine what good could come if we all took a few moments for someone in need. Here is my story about the magic of listening.
It was time to visit mom again. I knew what I would see at the rehabilitation center: patients in need of skilled nursing, listless in wheelchairs, oxygen in tow, sad eyes staring at cold picked-at food. And I knew how I would feel.
At the dining area mom was seated beside a frail man. "Hello, ma," I said, before turning to the frail man. "Hello"
He made eye contact and politely smiled.
I passed out doughnuts to the diners, trying to wake the dead. The doughnuts got the attention of a few. One little old lady meekly expressed interest, but lamented she had no money. I was able to coax her into taking one anyway!
The frail man smiled and said he would love a chocolate one. Oh chocolate, the magical icebreaker! I dared a few easy questions. He had no family except one brother and five nieces and nephews, who only visited once. In New York City he worked many years as an administrator in the public library and loved Grenich village and Central Park. I never heard of a family of his own, except for his mom. He lived with her for many years. He had two degrees from Duquesne and CMU. He fought in Korea and hated it.
As I showed interest, he began to disclose his philosophies of life and death and his fear of losing words. He pointed to the doughnut box, sadly revealing that he couldn't remember the name of what was inside. Once upon a time, he said, he spoke Spanish fluently, but couldn't remember a single word now.
He talked, I listened. I talked, he listened. Mom joined in too, as if the anxiety that had been bothering her now never existed. We connected in a very deep human way.
After some time I stood up and told him how very happy I was to meet him. He extended his thin hand and I asked if I could hug him instead. His eyes crinkled; his smile broadened in approval.
I put my arms around his tiny frame and passed loving energy from my heart to his. When I pulled away, he looked up at me, breathing a long sigh. “You smell so good,” he said. “Like a beautiful woman!"
I smiled. I kissed and hugged mom goodbye and began leaving.