Wednesday, August 5, 2009
As I sat in the quiet little room, I could see that he was distant. Dick had been an active and dynamic part of my church for decades, but now he is alone. His beloved wife passed away several years ago, and he has no immediate family. His room is a stale little box in the higher care section of a retirement community, cluttered with pictures and the debris of a life that is now passed. As his hearing has gone to nothing, he's become harder and harder to communicate with.
He used to try to put in hearing aids when I came by to visit, but lately he hasn't even tried. No one else comes by. Why bother? As he sat in silence, nodding his head softly to himself, I found myself wondering how to break through. He doesn't sign. He doesn't lip read.
I looked around his little room for a pen and paper. Perhaps if I wrote out my part of the conversation....
But there were none to be had. He started talking, just a little bit, about the things he sees out of his window each day. His vision is still fine, and that view out of the window is all he has. So he shared, not looking over, about the helicopters that pass. About the dying tree. His gaze was distant, his words halting and slightly jumbled.
I suddenly had a thought, and switched my iPhone to the 3G network. Then, as I multi-tasked listening to him, I hit the App Store. I searched for "sketch pad," and found a nice little free app that would let me write big letters on the touchscreen. I downloaded it, and in less than two minutes, I had what I needed.
On the surface of my phone, I wrote in big, big letters: "HELLO, DICK." I showed it to him.
He looked at the phone, nodding blankly. Then, suddenly, he realized I was using it to communicate. He smiled, and looked at me, and his eyes brightened. I erased what I'd written, and wrote: "HOW R YOU?" He gave a little clap of delight.
And so we talked, him speaking in animated tones, me scrawling out big two-to-three word responses on the screen of my phone. We talked about his health, about the tooth he'd just lost, and about stuff...but most importantly, we talked. He knew I heard him, that I was listening, and we connected.
It was one of the best phone conversations I've had recently.