“Did you hear about the episode in the dining room yesterday?” A group of ladies were gathered in the activity room and were already gossiping about Walter’s outburst that took place the evening before. Hazel did her best to focus on the task at hand, washing out old planters left over from last year and preparing them for repotting.
“I hear he and Alice got in this huge fight, and now she refuses to see him anymore,” one of the ladies whispered to the group. “Which one is Alice again? I keep getting all his lady friends confused,” another said with a wink. All the ladies began giggling uncontrollably. “So, get this. Alice had been away for a few weeks, and during that time, Walter decided to become more friendly with Pat.” The knitting needles clacked together rapidly as the group excitedly shared what they had heard. “Pat? Didn’t she just lose her husband not too long ago?” “No, no, no, you’re thinking of Pat on the fourth floor. This is Pat, the younger lady that plays the piano on Sundays at our church service.” The ladies all gasped. “I didn’t think Pat was the type!” “Well, clearly not, and it was probably innocent enough on her part, but Walter started gloating about his new younger woman during last week’s cribbage tournament, and well…”
The gossip continued endlessly. Hazel tried her best not to make eye contact, as she wanted to avoid getting caught up in the silliness of it all. However, despite her best efforts, there came a question from one of the ladies. “Hazel, you were down for dinner and saw what happened. Is it true that he was drunk? I heard he had been drinking his sorrows away after losing Alice and came down to dinner almost completely incapacitated.” Hazel shrugged. “I’m not really sure what happened. I’m not one to speak of someone I know nothing about and spread rumours.” The ladies put down their knitting all at the same time and the room grew very quiet all of a sudden. Finally, one of the ladies turned to the others and gave a smirk. “Oh, I see how it is.” And with that, the entire group started packing up their knitting and headed towards the door, throwing nasty glances at Hazel on their way out.
Hazel wasn’t quite sure what had just happened. Memories of being the odd girl out at school flooded back. It was just like that in many ways. Hazel had always been careful to speak well of others and not to hurt anyone’s feelings. She had always been the type of person who went out of her way to get along with everyone, even if she often found herself on the outside of most social circles because of it. She tried to shake the thoughts out of her head, feeling foolish that the gossips had got to her.
She gathered her things and made her way back up to her room, bumping into Millie on her way. “Hi there Millie! I just finished cleaning out all the old planters so that we can repot them when we have some time.” Before Millie could say anything, one of the ladies from the group joined them at the elevators. “Careful what you say around that one Millie, with her high and mighty attitude, she’ll be judging you like she does the rest of us.” Hazel struggled to find a rebuttal, but it was too late. The woman had already turned on her heels and was walking away. Hazel felt the redness rising into her cheeks. “What was that about?” Millie asked innocently. “Nothing.” Hazel replied sternly. “Just school girl games, and I’ve outgrown them.”
Just because people get older doesn’t mean they grow out of the social dynamics and petty behaviours of their youth. Gossiping, clique-forming and bullying happen in congregate living settings, regardless of the age of the residents. Believe it or not, these school-like behaviours are very common in seniors residences. While communities promote the benefits of social interaction and relationship building, sometimes residents can be less than accommodating.
What have been your experiences with group behaviours in your community? What advice do you have for residents like Hazel? As always, we appreciate your thoughts, stories and insights.