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Little Acts of Kindness = Major Acts of Love

February 21, 2013

Have you ever lived alone?

I live alone. It’s not necessarily by choice, but it is a fact. I moved to a new location last year to take a job. It’s a small town, I didn’t know anyone when I moved here, and the job keeps me busy for 12-14 hours a day. There’s not much in the way of entertainment in this town except a small movie theater with shows four nights a week and the usual choice of smoky bars. Not being a bar person it’s unlikely I’ll meet many people in the dark rows of an almost empty theater.

Please don’t think I’m crying “victim” here. I’m trying to make a point about loneliness so please bear with me for a few more paragraphs. My job involves dealing with lots of people every day so I can’t say that I’m stuck on my own little island. I have rousing conversations with employees and clients. We share news of our families, our adventures, and our ah-ha moments.

At the end of a long and busy day I am grateful to go home to the peace and solitude of my plant filled home. I can listen to whatever music moves me at that moment, knit a sweater without interruption, read a book and be transported to another place, or work in the garden and feel tied to the Earth. My life is full and I am content. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t welcome sharing that life with a companion, but for now being alone is my state of life.

 

Emma’s story:

Emma is a 76-year old woman living in her own home surrounded by pictures of her children and grandchildren. She doesn’t suffer from any major health issues beyond some arthritis and poor eyesight so she keeps herself active with housekeeping and gardening. Because of her eyesight she is no longer able to drive so has her groceries delivered once a week with an order she calls in.

Visitors to Emma’s home would find it spotless with everything in its place and no clutter. There might be a handicraft project sitting next to the rocker with the magnifying glass on a stand close by or a book on tape sitting out on the stereo, but there would be no dust or dirt to be seen. Emma loves knowing that her home is in order and “visitor ready” at any time. Unfortunately, she has few visitors. Her children might visit once or twice a year and they rarely stay over night. It’s off for a meal at a local restaurant and then rush back home to say good-bye again.

Emma is lonely. She makes gifts for the children and grandchildren for their birthdays and Christmas. She sends cards at all the holidays (Valentine’s day, Easter, graduations, Halloween,  and Thanksgiving). She sometimes sends little notes or treats just because she wants to reach out and show her love. The travesty is that she never gets a thank you note or cards on special occasions. Her birthday goes by with a phone call from each of her children and talk of their busy lives, but no one asks about her life.  There is no mention of how much they love her or miss her. Did I mention Emma is lonely.

Tom’s story:

Tom just turned 70 last month. Six years ago he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and he moved in with his son, James. They share a nice suburban house together. James works as an accountant at a local business and is somewhat of a loner. Tom’s Alzheimer’s has progressed rapidly and he is now in the final stages and cannot be left alone. During the day, while James is at work, there is a woman who comes to care for Tom. She helps him bathe and dress and she fixes his meals, but otherwise she has no interaction with him. She sits in front of the television and only rouses herself to take Tom to the bathroom every couple of hours.  Tom is with someone all the time, but he is alone.

If Tom gets anxious and starts to pace the room the woman yells at him to sit down. If he wants to go outside she locks the door and goes back to watching her shows. The woman doesn’t get paid much for her work and she has no training in dealing with people, let alone someone with Alzheimer’s. She has no notion that she is causing further anxiety, depression, and isolation for Tom.  How sad to be alone even when someone is in the same room.

When James gets home from work he is tired and stressed. He sits down in front of the television with a beer  and usually falls asleep in his chair. There is little to no interaction with Tom except for maybe a drive on the weekend. James is short tempered with Tom and cannot understand why his father can’t leave him alone at the end of a long day. If Tom asks a question James gets short tempered with him or just walks back to his chair and the TV. Tom’s communication is sporadic at best, but even when he can get the words out he is ignored or chastised. He’s locked in a world of being alone.

What to do?

So, I’ve given you examples of three different types of being alone. My situation of being alone is tolerable and I can always change the situation. My life is full with work and other activities (if I seek them out) and at this age I can engage, or not, as I choose. The same goes for James when he comes home from work.

Emma however is lonely, as I stated, and her situation isn’t likely to change unless someone steps up to the plate and engages with her. Just because she doesn’t see well and has a little arthritis doesn’t mean her life should be devoid of adventure and fun. Someone calling her every few days or dropping by to share a casserole in the evening would be huge in making her feel accepted. A neighbor offering to drive her to a concert in the park or an afternoon at the lake would open new avenues of joy for her. Thank you notes and short letters from her children and grandchildren would brighten her day and give her further impetus to send those gifts and cards. Some aware people could change her situation around with very little effort.

Tom’s case is more difficult. In the final stages of Alzheimer’s he may, or may not, recognize the kindness of others. But regardless of the stage of his disease process he is still a human being and deserves comfort and understanding. Anyone who is aware of the dynamics between Tom and his day companion might suggest that the woman gain some understanding of how to interact with an Alzheimer’s client. In addition, James could use some information and coaching on the needs of his father. A tender touch, a kind word, a day without being yelled at or locked in would make his end-of-life journey so much more comfortable.

A request:

Please take the time over the next few days to stop and think of people you know who might be in similar situations. There might be family members (a mother, father, grandparents, aging aunt), neighbors (the little lady next door who never has visitors, the old gentleman you see in the park all alone, the parents of a friend), or someone at church-anyone who you think might be lonely.

After you’ve thought of  someone, or better yet a few people I’d ask you to think of a few acts of kindness you could do to make their lives better. It doesn’t have to be a major event or something that takes alot of time. It doesn’t need to be something you do every day. Just think of ways you can impact someone else’s life in small ways that show love and compassion. I guarantee you will benefit as much as they do.

Once you’ve started thinking of ways to uplift someone who is lonely I ask that you start talking about it. Make your efforts public. This isn’t so much tooting your own horn as an attempt to engage others in the same line of thought and action. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are supposed to do good deeds. Let’s get them engaged with senior citizens and building stronger communities. Church groups, kids involved in school projects, and other organizations can reach out and adopt individuals, or entire groups of senior citizens, to help integrate them back into a world of loving, concerned, and compassionate communities.

Just think, you’d be helping others, yourself, and entire communities. I know, it sounds like some kind of utopian idea but who knows what could come of it? Emma might find some people to share the produce from her garden with and they might end up inviting her for dinner and into their homes to share in fun and laughter. Tom could end up getting out more for his beloved walks and he might connect with someone who calms and soothes his ravaged emotions. James might even find more energy and a way to engage with others in social situations instead of just at work.  I might step out of my evening solitude and take up tango lessons.

Life should be an adventure at every age! Don’t you agree?

 

Please share your thoughts on this subject. Have you done anything similar? What would you like to do to help erase loneliness from the lives of seniors? Please feel free to express yourselves in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

 

 

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