Write An Older Person A Letter

We are being asked to stop visiting the elderly, and others, at care centers, but you can still help

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Lift a shadow on the world for just a moment, Christyl Rivers

Once, I lived in a condo where the elderly man on the floor below me lost his wife to illness. I did not know this neighbor.

I recognized him from parking lot comings and goings.

There was a commotion, downstairs, I think, an ambulance and lots of activity when his wife died.

I was living alone at the time. This was long before I lost many a loved one of my own.

Yet, as I lay awake at night, I could not stop thinking about him. About his loneliness. His heartbreak.

I wrote him a hand written card of sympathy.

Days later, he showed up at my door to thank me in person. I leaned a ton of stuff about him. About his wife. About his life.

It turns out that he was very old, indeed. He had been at the shores of Normandy during World War Two. He had many hobbies, including furniture repair, traveling, and once upon a time, dancing. He had raised a daughter, and she lived far away.

His humanity unfolded before me. Once he began his story, he spoke as if we were old friends.

In the Seattle area, where I just returned from, people are being asked to stop visit those in care homes. This seems especially sad in the case of the elderly, who already may feel isolated, and alone.

Many people feel helpless and afraid in the wake of the Covid 19 outbreak. But, consider that you are not the only one to feel alone. You are never really helpless, unless you choose to do nothing.

But how to be safe when there are germs everywhere? It’s okay, you can wash your hands like a brain surgeon beforehand, and know that at most care facilities they are in fact, being extraordinarily cautious.

It helps to turn outward in troubled times. If this feels bizarre, or foreign to you, that’s okay, too.

When I met the man downstairs, it wasn’t completely un-weird. But, I am so glad I did.

It was not without some awkward moments. It felt strange that for at least a year prior, we were perfect strangers. It felt weird that I didn’t even know his wife’s, or even his, name. It was sad that I never really got to meet her. It felt uncomfortable when you don’t know quite what to say when a fellow human enters a new life stage, and you are not their next of kin.

But, then, you remember, maybe they don’t have a lot of kin. And, if nothing else, you will both be touched by loss and death in your lifetime.

In times when people are so divided, it’s so important to unite as human beings. You may know absolutely nothing about the person to whom you reach out. Or maybe, you do think you know them by their race, color, or religion, or rituals.

You may have already set up expectations about them only to learn you don’t know everything. When I met the man downstairs, I never imagined him as a strong, young man, storming a beach in France decades before. Now my whole picture about who he was and how he even affected my life (You, me, and almost everyone/everything changed by fact of being a baby boomer, or post boomer, birth) Everything changed in my perspective because I wrote a little note.

Or maybe they don’t have to be that “important” or pivotal on the world stage. Knowing they are human is enough. But, remember too, that whether you do this as part of being a better person of faith, creating an exercise in taking risk, or writing, or for finding a potential friend, it is not all about “doing a good deed.”

Taking this kind of step will affect you, at least as much as it will the recipient.

All of us, by nature of nature, know that change is the only constant. You will make plans in your life, for marriage, career, family, and location. But they will not be will you think they will be. Nothing ever is.

But, know this: some day all of us will be sick, or old, or affected in a huge way by those that are. This is inevitable. But this common thread means we are connected. Maybe we should show that we are in uncommon gestures.

It is about finding common ground in uncommon times.

Yes, there is tons of bad stuff happening, some of it right at your doorstep, perhaps. But you are not powerless. You can affect a life. You can elicit a smile upon a human face. In doing so, you can affect your own life for the better.

Written by

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.

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