Thinking of the elderly
and specific action items for you to choose from or add to
Two days ago, as I was leaving for work, shovel in hand to remove freshly fallen snow, the first floor apartment’s door opened, and my 87-year old landlord’s (Gerald’s) wife, Claire, faced me, with a distraught look and visible fear in her eyes.
“Gerald is in intensive care,” she said to my disbelief.
She added that his son will be coming later in the day, so I don’t have to shovel the snow and he will take care of it.
As if snow is even on the radar of my worries, I thought to myself, still digesting the news.
“His lungs,” Claire said, tears filling her eyes.
“We almost lost him, you know, he’s 87.”
I expressed fervent hope that he would feel better soon, and she exclaimed, passionately, that yes, he is in our county’s best hospital, and that the drugs they administer are “very powerful” — so she, too, hopes he will make it.
It was a relief to hear her encouraging prognosis, and I gave her the well-wishes I could muster at that moment.
Moments later, reflecting on what Claire told me, while shoveling snow, I was overcome with guilt. Last week I had heard Gerald’s extensive coughing reaching my apartment (the floor is not fully sound-proof), sometimes during the night. Because it did get progressively louder, I was concerned at the time that he might have COVID.
But what was there in my power to do? He and his wife lived together, and their relatives occasionally visited. I couldn’t have simply texted him, “I’m concerned about your coughing. Would you like me to take you to Urgent Care?”
Well, I could have, but knowing Gerald’s fierce independence — last year, at 86, he single-handedly carried to the second floor and replaced my apartment’s leaking toilet (yes, the entire unit, while I was at work); he has never relied on anyone to fix appliances or to help with household tasks — I tried convincing myself, while driving to work, that he would have absolutely declined my offer to help, as he has in the past.
The guilt of not trying, though, remained.
Today, as I returned home, Claire again came out of the first floor apartment and told me, “Gerald is having an open-heart surgery soon, today.”
I offered to drive her to the hospital, though she declined, saying she didn’t know how long it will take and they’ve already postponed it twice.
She didn’t want to hold me up.
“I will make it there, don’t worry,” Claire added assertively.
I do not know how the surgery went yet, or if it was postponed again, but it is clear that when two people live together and depend on one another at an older age, the prospect of potentially losing your partner must be terrifying. Yet, even when they need support from others, so many choose not to seek it, fearing they are a burden.
It is impossible not to think about my own paternal grandparents, who depend on each other and live mostly in social isolation from others in their city apartment, currently dealing with their own health issues and intermittent hospital stays, thousands of miles away from either of their descendants…
* * *
What I do know is that, as of today, I already failed twice this year at trusting my intuition enough to proactively do something about it, or at least try to. The first failure will be a subject of another post. This one, however, compels me to type out the following action items for all of us, including you, dear reader. I spontaneously created this list just now, and any improvements from you are more than welcome.
Does the above situation resonate with you or your folks? Do you ever feel guilt for not having tried to intervene? Please comment or reply directly to me; I read all responses.
Identify an elderly person whom you care about, and consider if they need anything but might be hesitant about asking you (or those in their orbit), for fear of placing an undue burden on others’ shoulders.
Contact them. Just do it.
Express a desire to fill what you believe their need entails, and do not back off if they decline out of politeness. Be assertive.
Think about the socially isolated elderly in your network.
Place yourself in their shoes, and let your imagination do the work to really feel their inner world. Take as much time as necessary for this feeling to permeate as many of your senses as possible.
Send them a warm card or letter, expressing your well-wishes deeply and genuinely. You may spark a new level of connection to cherish for life.
Would you like them to receive cards or well-wishes from strangers, too? Then fill out the mutual support exchange form right now!
(reposting the following from two weeks ago; little did I know how relevant this would be, and how directly this would hit home, literally)
Curing social isolation: send a card to the elderly by Friday, 12/16
There has been substantial research on the subject of social isolation among older adults and its detrimental effects on their psychological and physical health. This CDC publication offers striking findings (on correlation with premature death, dementia, depression, etc.) and explores the issue as a matter of public health.
To brighten up the spirits of concrete people of age in a homeless shelter, every year this holiday season my alumni association (PANE) offers an opportunity for you to send them holiday cards through a nonprofit it partners with (Hearth Inc) in greater Boston. The annual initiative is spearheaded by one of our active alumni who prefers to remain anonymous here. This is what they wrote:
“Seeking volunteers for the Holiday Cards for Seniors - New Year's Edition campaign running through Dec. 16, 2022 - thank you if you can help out!” “Really grateful to anyone who can send some cards - a few or several! Each one we send will brighten someone's winter season.”
The page notes, “Hearth currently has 230 units of housing – let’s make sure everyone gets at least one card. Since 2020, we’ve sent over 350 cards to isolated seniors – let’s keep the momentum going! Our hope is that volunteers can send two to three cards but more are encouraged! The cards aren’t to a specific recipient, so we hope each resident receives at least one. Store-bought & homemade cards are welcomed. And please take photos to share with us!”
Each of our lives is finite. Grateful to all of you who’ll consider either of the above actions. Which one will you take?
As outlined here, every other week your requests or offers from this mutual support exchange form will be posted to the Giving Tuesdays section of this publication. Submit one anytime! Please consider inviting a friend or more to this publication or to the anyhumans podcast as a guest or as a host.
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I like the action items! I think they are part of the broader theme that many older individuals are less socially connected than younger people. This means that you need to reach out and see how you can provide emotional and physical support. While a checklist is helpful, it can be as simple as asking how they are doing and listening to how you can be there with them.
This is a very thoughtful post and list of action items. I remember seeing similar action items for the start of COVID and I think it still rings true. I appreciate your anecdotes about your landlord (and I really do hope he will be okay) showing the fallible nature of human psychology that causes us to be afraid to ask for help, accept help, or offer help.