Because of an anniversary, a birthday, Grandparents Day, and my dinner with Bob – I have a favor to ask.
For clarity, John is my grandfather pictured above. This past week was actually the anniversary of the last time I saw him and this picture is from that joyous day. But Bob is the gentleman I had dinner with two Fridays ago. Read on to see why my husband, Brian, was ok with that.
A bit of background. I always say that if wasn’t working with kids, I’d be working with the elderly. It would suit me for a variety of reasons.
I love rooting for the underdog and our society seems to see our seniors as less than.
I’m always looking for moments to help and it seems to take so little to make their generation happy and appreciative.
I’m also sensitive to the fact of how disconnected we all are. That we don’t really know everyone’s story and how little effort it takes to really make someone feel seen.
When I moved away from home, not being able to just sit with my grandfather on his back porch swing looking at his garden and eating ice cream cones or sitting with my grandmother to watch an episode of some National Geographic program or walk her to the corner store, were some of my only regrets. They were both always there with open arms, a big hug, or jokes that consistently expressed their love.
Picturing them sitting there by themselves and not being able to do as much for them as I wanted hurt.
The same rings true for my husband’s grandmother. (Her birthday would have been tomorrow.) We did our best to express our love from afar. Called often, tried to introduce them to Facetime to video chat, sent cards, pictures, silly gifts, etc. (See the shark hat above and all of the festive FL “flair” below.) J Anything we could to remind them that we thought of them often and that they weren’t alone or forgotten.
While away, I tried pass it on and volunteer at our local senior citizen homes multiple times. However, it didn’t ever seem to align with how I was looking to support. To no fault of the homes, there just didn’t seem to be an opportunity to genuinely connect.
So instead of waiting to share my time and attention within those homes, I’ve taken it upon myself and found a way to give back … at the tables. You’ll see. 🙂
I knew I had to do something because I’d see seniors alone everywhere and would think of ways to walk in their paths in the grocery stores so I could lock eyes and say, “Hello!” I’d think of keeping handwritten notes and chocolates in my car to put on windshields if I saw them walking into stores alone. But I realized this could be perceived as more stalker than helper so I decided to spread the love in less threatening and more undercover ways.
All I really wanted to do was to stop them and talk about what they’d seen in their lives. To listen to their wisdom. To help make them laugh. I’d wonder about where they’re at in their life’s story right now, about their journey. Did they just lose a loved one? Do they have grandchildren who have moved away? What were their life’s joys? Their struggles?
But in the middle of a store unannounced isn’t always the most appropriate time to do that and I am very aware that there are unfortunately many people who look for opportunities to take advantage of our elderly. But in a restaurant – that was where I found my opportunity!
My husband is an active supporter now but at first, it began with the two of us entering a restaurant, me “scoping the scene” and if I spotted any senior sitting alone, I would request to sit as close to them as possible.
It would start with a smile, a comment about the food, and then I would work my way in!
Some would open up and just smile. Some would crack jokes and then return to their meals. And some by the end of it would be pulling out their cell phones showing us pictures of the hot air balloon rides or bi plane rides they’d just flown in the day prior. One man even shared a story about him being stranded at sea for 3 days on his 17th birthday and still surviving. Amazing to say the least. But more so, confirming.
Here were these “innocent” looking seniors, sitting alone everywhere, with such beautiful stories to tell.
We’ve also found a way to spread the love and kindness even if we can’t sit right next to them and chat with them.Brian and I took a holiday tradition of ours, sitting at a restaurant and anonymously buying drinks or meals for people, and have extended that to seniors all year round.
Sometimes we’d leave before they knew. Others we’ve seen a group of 4 ladies scout the restaurant to try to see who would do such a thing. One smiling so big, one just staring at the receipt-eyebrow raised in confusion, another taking her to go box and running, while the last just sat smiling and chuckling. I can only hope that those small moments trigger a moment of happiness or a feeling of love that they can enjoy for the moment or a positive memory to hold on to for when they may need it or are feeling lonely. People are out there, watching, loving, and willing to help or and take care of you.
My husband, Brian, has gotten used to this. He now naturally scans the room too. Jokingly in a “don’t leave me, I’ll come sit with you too” mentality but now also in an appreciative way. I admit. I become fixated sometimes. How do I do it? Where’s there server? How far into their meal are they? He loses me for a bit of the meal but as with most things, encourages me because it makes me happy and he’s seen how it makes others happy too.
But last Friday night, we hit the jackpot with Bob!
As we walked into Parkshore for dinner, we ended up at a table that Brian picked that ended up being just the right one.
The table was in an area that when you looked to the left, we were almost looking down on one elderly gentlemen eating all by himself. I eyed in the direction and Brian knew the drill. “Buying his drink aren’t we?” he smile and replied. I don’t know what it was but I thought, no. That’s not enough. Why shouldn’t we invite him to join us? There wasn’t another place setting. So he wasn’t waiting for anyone. There were two giant tables across from him and it was a secluded ish table that by nature and he looked lonely.
What if he just lost his wife? What if he has no family? What if it was a challenge for him to even get himself to the restaurant? We’re not the Pope, but we’re kind and able to engage in a good conversation and have a three day weekend ahead where we’ll be spending time with one another, why not invite him in?
So I did.
I jumped up, walked around the corner with nothing prepared and just asked.
You could sense his confusion at first and then a softness in his eye. He asked a few questions and then dropped his head. Claiming himself to be a bit of a recluse now as he used to have the company of his wife and pointed in the direction of the seat. Dam. What I assumed but hated to have confirmed, was. As I looked at my loving husband, knowing it could be one of us at some time. I looked back at him so that he knew if he changed his mind, that we’d both be right there.
I returned to our table feeling bummed and sad. What a reminder about human rejection. When people open up their hearts for any reason. It’s hard. It’s vulnerable. Are we so ingrained to not trust, to not receive love or kindness, to think we’re burdens that we won’t ask for help when we need it. But I knew it wasn’t about me. I quickly returned to knowing I was happy that I tried and that the conversation alone could’ve still spread the knowing that someone was looking out for him and that we could still buy his drink. 🙂
But then it happened, he stopped another waiter and while I couldn’t hear the first part, I was pretty sure he ended with telling the waiter that he’d changed his mind and wanted to, “… take her up on the offer.” I was overjoyed. I was in!
I locked eyes with the waiter who was looking around and gave him a wink. He said sure and that he’d set his plates down and be right back.
Bob was up in a flash! Well as fast as his cane and 87 year old body would let him. And the next thing I know his real waiter is escorting him to the back of the restaurant towards the bathroom. Dang. I may have been wrong. But as I was staring and trying to figure it out, I noticed he was looking around and when they got towards the bathroom, he didn’t go in. I still had a chance! The waiter may have misunderstood.
It was dark in the restaurant so I waved. Ha! Brian, still smiling and watching, hasn’t said a word and I had a moment of feeling like an idiot as I was pretty much blocking the aisle to get his attention. What if he had just told his waiter, “Hey there’s a crazy lady around here trying to eat with me. Get me the heck out of here. ” And here I am waving like I’m trying to land a plane.
But I’m glad I did. He was still looking around and after a few more steps, they were close enough that the waiter caught my eye. We locked eyes and he smiled. I was right! He was looking for me/us. I was so happy.
He introduced himself as Bob/Robert and said he’d felt awfully rude denying the invitation.
I didn’t find it rude at all. But I knew how much gumption and bravery that had to take. To slyly acknowledge that he was lonely and would love the company.
I was sensitive to that but Game on! I couldn’t wait to see where this would go and to get to know him more.
An hour and a half of magic. For me anyway. (And Brian I think too.)
We learned that he was born in England. That he met his wife when he was 19 and that they’d been married for over 60 years. We learned that he had traveled to over 52 countries. About his favorite places to live. About his career. About his family. About his schooling. And we also learned that in the 60s that he lived in the exact same town as my grandfather! Of all places in the USA, the same small town in Michigan. It felt like validation. Like I was getting to spend the evening with my grandfather. Sharing the moments that I missed.
We smiled. We learned. We connected.
Towards the end of the meal, he asked why I asked him to join us. Honestly, I couldn’t articulate it well. I tried to share that I have always had a spot in my heart for the elderly. I tried to go deep without telling him directly that I thought he may have been lonely and I just wanted to help. Whatever my response, I could see him get teary eyed.
As we wrapped up, we paid and he left. The waiters and waitresses there were all very kind and appreciative. Bob was apparently a regular and they all knew that he was so interesting and had lost his wife. It made me happy to see that he did have other people looking out for him as well.
Brian and I stayed to have another celebratory and reflective glass of wine.
He may never remember it again. But we exchanged cards and I’m hopeful he’ll reach out again to connect. We’re neighbors. We’re from similar areas. But more deeply, we’re all one human family.
So as we celebrate Grandparents Day, the anniversary of one of the most enjoyable afternoons with my grandfather, and the upcoming-would have been-birthdays of Brian’s grandmother, and my upcoming birthday, I have a favor to ask.
The next time or two that you walk into a restaurant, take a quick scan of the place and see if there is a senior sitting alone. Or anyone else that may look like they could use company for that matter. Then request to sit perhaps a bit awkwardly close to them and see what happens.
If you’re so inclined, I would love to hear about your experiences if you do give it a try. Share them here, privately, or with the hashtag #DinnerWithBob.
Perhaps you’ll start with the smile, a comment about the food, an anonymous meal paid for, or maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised in your conversation. You’ll hopefully have other opportunities to enjoy a meal, but the moments that we get to truly connect, learn about, and support one another are fleeting.
We could be forever changed. We could be helping each others’ grandparents out from afar. You could initiate a positive ripple and that may come back one day.
Let’s take care of each other so we’re not physically and theoretically, sitting in booths alone.
This story is to be continued. I sent Bob an email and hope there will be another meal. But even if there’s not with the original Bob, I know I will make time for others.
Thank you to the kind waiters and waitresses who go out of their way to make our gestures possible, to our wonderful grandparents who model kindness and love, and to my loving husband for supporting my “habits”. 🙂