Finding Connections to Help Fight Loneliness this Winter

Written By: Stacy Bozarth, Edmond Mobile Meals Board Member

I’ve made it my life’s work to help as many people as I can develop an awareness for both the value and the necessity of meaningful connection. Meaningful being the key word here. The type of connection I’m referencing is one where both people feel seen, valued and heard. When this occurs, it allows each person to gain both sustenance and strength from the relationship. It’s currently a rare treasure to find in our culture.

Long before the pandemic, our society was engulfed in a loneliness epidemic. It was a different kind of loneliness than we were taught growing up. It wasn’t necessarily caused by isolation; in fact the pre-pandemic loneliness often occurred in a room full of friends. Individuals would have moments where we didn’t feel known, and often wondered if our thoughts, ideas, stories and very presence even mattered. In many cases, this led to the experience of disconnection which was so subtle that it often went unnoticed due to our fast paced lives. Once this became a consistent experience or feeling, we began to de-value our worthiness leading to possible depression and/or anxiety which only made things more difficult to process and understand.

Of course Covid(-19) has done nothing to decrease the amount of loneliness in our country. Unfortunately, it has exponentially combined the “isolated” kind of traditional loneliness with the “do I matter” loneliness. That’s a tough combination. However, I sense there is almost a collective re-discovered awareness that we (humans) are hard wired for meaningful human connection. We’re beginning to understand that meaningful connection is crucial for our health, emotionally, mentally and physically, and should not be a luxury or a mere afterthought.

Not long ago, I was reading an article that listed self care options during the 2020 holiday season. The article was full of ideas that would help the reader cope with the loneliness, depression and anxiety rampant within our culture. The author listed different methods of coping such as going for a brisk walk, taking the long way home, baking and eating a cupcake, going for a car ride (on a sunny day with the windows open), working in the yard, or going outside on a pleasant day to stretch, or maybe even flying a kite. About half way through the list, I felt my heart get heavy as I thought about our homebound senior population. I quickly realized that most of the options on this list would not be viable for our aging population to complete. I began wondering what our seniors could do for self care and thinking about how could we better serve that precious part of our population. Especially this year, when so many seniors are isolated, lonely, afraid, and literally starving for connection…how an we do more? Where can we start?

A couple of decades ago my grandmother-in-law taught me about the correlation between increased loneliness and aging through stories and realities from her own journey. At the time, she was in her early 90’s, traveling with family, driving her friends around and she lived independently but also in close proximity to family and friends. Every day, she put her beautiful, long grey hair up in a French twist; she was truly an amazing woman. In the decade before she passed away, we had several chats about getting “old.” (her words not mine) She explained, that in many ways, she had the ideal life for a senior. She had her health, financial stability, family nearby that she adored (and vice versa), and independence. In our discussions, she’d say to me that old age is not a gift to be taken for granted, however it also wasn’t an easy part of her life experience. Often, it was hard work. She explained that every day some part(s) of her body hurt, but the worst part of aging she said was all of the lonely hours she spent by herself. Sometimes her stories included a few tears brimming her eyes while she explained how she had endured a tremendous amount of loss over the span of her life including: her husband, child, siblings, parents, while also outliving all of her “first set” of friends, her “second round” of friends, and even a “third set” of friends. I quickly began to understand that living a long life is also filled with pain, loneliness and loss. I’m thankful for the wisdom she shared with me because it opened my eyes and heart to an often forgotten part of our population, the seniors.

As 2020 is drawing to a close, this population remains heavy on my heart. December always stirs this in me as I fondly remember the many holidays I spent with my grandparents every year in Florida. They lived in a beautiful mobile home community that was full of “snow birds.” Each year, our family would plan a big Christmas Eve pot luck dinner for all of their friends that didn’t have anyone visiting them. Year after year, many of the same people came to the dinner searching for community. I loved learning, laughing and getting to know all of those beautiful people, and we learned a lot from each other! Very few of them were homebound when I started going, and most of them were homebound when my grandmother finally moved back to the north to be nearer to family. However, the opportunity to share meaningful connection with amazing people lives within me forty years later.

I’m guessing that most of us agree that this isn’t the year for potlucks with our seniors. So, what can we do to reach out and connect with the older members of our population? First, if it’s available to you, I would highly recommend you start with your own family. Think of first cousins of your parents, great grandparents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Where are they? How are they? What do they like? What don’t they like? How can you reach out to them? Could you write them a letter, on paper? True fact, my Dad found every letter I’d ever written my grandmother in a special drawer after she passed away. That kind of connection was valuable to her. Depending on their ability, or access to technology, is Face Time or Zoom a possibility? How about an email? Some of you are probably wondering what you could say or ask when you make the connection. That leads me to another story.

Years ago, my mother-in-law organized an interview brunch where all of Great-Grandmother’s children, grandchildren, and even a couple of great grandchildren got to ask her any question we wanted. As a much younger woman, I don’t believe I fully appreciated the gift that time together was. I easily see the gift It will is and will be. My questions today would be so different; however, having the many generations present allowed for a large variety of questions and topics. Thankfully the event was videotaped. We started with the most basic questions, but finished a few hours later having learned about her life. I believe it was one of the many seeds planted in my heart to help our community understand the value of inter-generational unity and helping to create and share a bridge to meaningful connections with family members.

Outside of our families, who else might we know? A neighbor? A friend? A senior living alone or in a facility? A senior working from home? You’ll be amazed at how many people will come to your mind. Once you think of your list some ideas to think about could be:

What is important to them? Food? Time? Books? Music? What could you leave on their porch? Do they use technology? If so…maybe a “remember when” story or picture would be a positive? What about a phone call? What if the phone call became a consistent effort?

If you don’t have access to seniors in your family, or in the extended circle of your life listed above, organizations like Edmond Mobile Meals are always searching for volunteers in a variety of roles. Our challenge this year has been to adapt quickly insuring that no senior was left behind. We are constantly evaluating and expanding our services and outreach. It is an organization with a heart for meaningful connection. Contact us today!

Thank you for your time and interest. I hope this message helped to stir up fond memories, and perhaps even inspired you to reach out and change the world around you, one meaningful connection at a time.