An Afternoon of Conversation at All Seasons

huge-2016_04_21_3728No matter how much you plan, when you’re doing something for the first time, you never know if reality will match up with your vision. The goal of the Picture a Conversation ™ program my husband and I created for the senior residents at All Seasons of Birmingham (MI) was to inspire a sense of community and encourage the residents, many of whom were newly arrived, to begin to get to know one another.

Martin and I planned a short talk about our own “creative conversation.” He spoke about his philosophy as a photographer and what draws him to a scene. I talked about the inspiration I draw from his images that guides me in writing the meditations and discussion questions featured on each Picture a Conversation card. Following this short Powerpoint presentation, our plan was for the residents, in groups of three or four, to use individual cards and engage in some talk and sharing. My description sounds so artificial and staged.  But I knew from our testing days that when people just take that first step and start talking, everything flows.

Those were the hopes for our afternoon at All Seasons, although there was a moment that gave me pause. A man with a walker looked into the room and said, “I’m not sitting with any women.  I’m tired of hearing about grandchildren and gall bladder operations!”  He hesitated in the doorway until I gestured toward three men sitting together.

After watching a few more residents slowly make their way to the various places we had arranged around the room, I realized that my plan to have them move to different tables for each conversation session would be a disaster.  Instant modification — instead of having them change tables, we’d just bring a new topic to them.  That worked. Seven women had gathered themselves together despite our setting up tables of three and four.  I knew this would hinder conversation, but they insisted on staying put.

L. J., Williams, the Life Activities Director, timed the program right before dinner in hopes that some new table companions might be forged. There were snacks, lemonade and wine on hand to help oil the skids.  Martin and I went from table to table, sharing in the conversations a bit, helping to move things along when needed.  When I came around to the group of seven women, I saw that they had divided themselves into three and four and were talking away. After about fifteen minutes, we called a short break for more food and drink and to distribute a new conversation card.

By the second conversation session, everyone was comfortable and jumped right in.  We looked around the room, thrilled to see all the residents, even the gallbladder averse man, engaging with one another.  There were smiles on people’s faces, They were animated and laughing together. I worried that there was so much talking going on that it might be hard for some to hear.  No matter.

What does fun look like to you?

What does fun look like to you?

For the third round, we moved from small-group conversations and opened the last question up to the entire room.  The card we chose features a snowman on the front; the reverse offers three questions about making time for fun in our lives.  I invited L. J.  to speak first and he talked about walking his dogs and the opportunities those walks bring him for connecting with his new neighbors.  He called out for other responses and several hands reached for the mike. One woman talked about the activities she enjoys at the residence. Another spoke of family times. The last woman rose to speak said this, “We all have come from different places.  We all have families.  But you are all my family now.  I have fun with you.”  Applause sounded from all corners of the room.  IN that moment, reality bested my imaginings.

As I reflected on the afternoon, the 1985 movie Cocoon came to mind. If you’ve seen it you know the scene when the aging residents of the retirement home dive into the pool of the house next door and are instantly rejuvenated as they swim through the life-force infused water. It doesn’t take Hollywood. It doesn’t take magic water.  All it takes to come alive is to have a great conversation with people eager to listen and share from the heart.

 

If you’re interested in our hosting a similar program, please contact us —                                              debra at pictureaconversation dot com.

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