On Christmas day this year, my husband and I were invited to sing Christmas carols for a church service in the retirement home where his sister-in-law works. This is something that my husband does a couple of Sundays every month (though in different retirement homes) but not really something that I do. I like to sing, but I am not really good at it (I struggle with auditory processing, which seems to be getting worse as I age, and though my hearing is good I don’t ‘hear’ well in groups – which means I can’t hear myself to ensure I have the correct tune.)
Thankfully my cold, which had already lasted for two weeks, seemed to be over. My throat was raw from coughing so much for so long, but I felt okay. This was good as the sign on the door said anyone having cold or flu symptoms was not allowed in – it made sense.
So I walked in with my husband, feeling very conspicuous, as I always do when walking in front of people. I was carrying my husband’s guitar for him, as he had books and other things to bring in as well. My sister-in-law wished me a Merry Christmas, gave me a hug, and asked how my new dog was doing. Then I followed my husband into the room.
I held his guitar for a while until he directed me to where I could put it down, and then I just stood there, not knowing what to do, as he got organized. After several minutes of standing awkwardly, I said to him, “I don’t know what I am doing,” so he told me I could sit in one of the chairs in front of us. “We’ll be front row people,” he said. So I sat.
My husband’s brother, and two of his adult nieces came in after that. They all wished me a Merry Christmas, and asked about my dogs. (At least they know where my interests lie! I probably wouldn’t have been able to talk about anything else.)
The room was full of seniors. Like babies, seniors don’t cause me the same level of anxiety. After a point in people’s lives, many people seem to lose that… maybe demanding, judgmental, competitive nature (or whatever it is that causes me to fear even people I have never met) and become almost harmless once more. I am still very anxious if I have to interact with them, it is just that being near to them isn’t as hard.
My husband talked a little, and then played his guitar and sang. His brother and nieces stood up at the front and sang as well (his sister-in-law was working, and had to be with the residents.) I stayed in my seat to sing, for that is where I was told to go. I am not sure if he meant that I should stay there the whole time, or if I was supposed to get up to sing with the rest of them – but there I was directed, and there I stayed.
After several songs, my husband’s brother spoke of the birth of Jesus, and how there would be no Easter without Christmas. When he was finished, we sang again. Up to that point, I was doing okay.
And then we were supposed to visit.
My husband and his family went off and ‘mingled.’ They are good at that sort of thing, but it meant I was left alone where I was sitting, trying to force myself to get up as well. A man sitting two seats over from me with his wife came over to me and started talking. He had lots to say, and used questions to get me talking, and still I felt very awkward.
He knew my husband from the thrift store where my husband works, and asked me if I was involved in the community. “A little,” I said, thinking of church and life group. Not much really.
“You must have children at home,” he said.
“Well, I have a son. He is twenty,” I replied.
“Twenty!!!” he said in shock. “How is it you have a twenty year old? What is your secret to staying so young?”
My husband is twenty-four years older than me, and his brother and sister-in-law are only a few years younger than him. I understood the question, but didn’t know how to answer without sharing my entire life story.
“I don’t know,” I said awkwardly.
He kept trying to keep the conversation going, but I am horrible with that. Thankfully that is when my husband came back, and started to talk to the man. But, as tends to happen to me, at that moment I started coughing uncontrollably. I just could not stop. That was something that used to happen to me every time I was called to talk in grade school, and even something that happened a lot when I was working front desk at the motel… I feel really anxious and awkward about talking, and start coughing uncontrollably.
As I was coughing, I worried that they would think I had gone in there sick. It might have been aggravated by the raw throat I had as a leftover from my cold, but mostly I think it was just the fact that I had been required to visit. Too much talking mixed with too much anxiety. It doesn’t do well for me.
Since I couldn’t stop coughing, my husband decided it was time for us to leave – and I did; coughing all the way.