Can a simple, short visit just to say “hello” make your day brighter?
It definitely can if you’re an older adult who has little opportunity to interact with others, get out and about alone, or frailties of aging that keep you closed up in your home much of the time. With the increasing rate of chronic disease and the rapidly increasing number of people in the 60+ age category, there are plenty of lonely, isolated people around – some of whom might just be in your own neighborhood.
Thanks to ElderFriends, a service of Family Lifeline, there is a friendly visiting program for isolated and/or lonely elders where volunteers can make a difference in their lives. With just one visit per week, you can bring sunshine into the life of an elder-person who simply seeks companionship and someone to talk to.
Are you thinking that as a young mom or dad, you don’t have any more time to spare? Read what one of our Richmondmom.com readers has to say about this.
Helen Trevey and her family moved to Richmond about 4 ½ years ago. The ElderFriends program was just beginning at that point and she decided to attend one of their training sessions to learn more about them. She was quickly paired up with an elder-friend who was unable to leave her house and was somewhat depressed. The two talked by phone weekly for a while and then she began to visit her new friend.
“As a person new to Richmond and newly married, it was a great way to volunteer and have a new friend. I was with my first elder-friend for two years, but transitioned her to another volunteer when my son was born. I really hated doing this because I knew how much she enjoyed our visits, but I also knew the new volunteer would give her the support she needed and I had no help with my son,” explains Helen.
When Helen’s son was one-year old, she felt a strong desire to get involved with another elder-friend. “I had stayed active within the committee for ElderFriends during that year, but had not taken on a new friend. But I knew I wanted to. I was soon paired up with Mrs. Nelson who was an 89-year old woman with a sharp mind, but physical problems that would not allow her to get out of the house, and we became wonderful friends.”
“My son was already starting to talk at one, and Mrs. Nelson totally enjoyed him coming along on our visits. She even had a special basket of toys for him beside her chair, and each visit when we arrived, she had taken his favorite toy out and placed it on the table. That meant so much to me as a mother,” Helen remembers fondly.
Helen explains how Mrs. Nelson has two daughters and two sons and even though they live close-by and check on Mrs. Nelson daily, they work full-time and have many commitments themselves. Her visits were a great help to Mrs. Nelson and to her family. It gave her elder-friend something that was hers and hers alone too. They shared stories and had many similar interests. Mrs. Nelson was able to relay her conversations and stories of their visits to her own children each day when they called or stopped by. It helped Mrs. Nelson continue to feel some semblance of independence because this was a relationship that was especially for her.
“Sometimes I would take a few groceries because I knew what she liked. Sometimes we just stopped by to say hi. It was a treat because my son’s grandparents don’t live nearby, so this gave him a person to get to know who was like a grandparent. It taught him about being around elderly people and he learned to relate to her well. When he did visit his grandparents, he was more open and related to them better I believe. Mrs. Nelson helped him develop his social personality and learn new activities too. She would count with him and help him learn new things every visit.”
Mrs. Nelson passed away this summer and it was a very difficult loss for Helen and her family. It was like losing a member of their family. But it was a relationship and experience that she would not trade for anything. “Elder people are so humble in giving advice, yet they teach us so much. You get so much wisdom from elders just by sitting and listening to what they have to say. John Thomas and I will miss her very much.”
The Family Speaks
The story doesn’t end there.
Mrs. Nelson’s children also talked about the Family LifeLine program and what it meant to them. We sat down with one of Mrs. Nelson’s daughters, Mary Jane Michael. Mary Jane could not say enough about what Helen and the program meant to her mother and her family.
Mary Jane explained that she introduced the ElderFriends program to her mother through a gift basket they brought her on Christmas. She explained that a group of people cared enough to send this gift and they wanted to visit with her. That basket made it easier to introduce the program to our mother and start this friendship with Helen.
“Helen was wonderful for my mother and my mom could depend on her coming every week with John Thomas. That meant a lot to her. Others came by occasionally, but Helen was such a loyal friend and my mother loved the visits with her young son,” Mary Jane explains.
Mary Jane said that her mother knew how busy Helen was with a young son and a very busy life and it made her really appreciate the effort she put forth to make visits to her. It gave her mother something to look forward to and most importantly, it was someone who wanted to come and see her. It was not someone who came because they were paid or they had to and her mother knew that.
“My mother would always tell us about the visits with Helen and John Thomas and it gave her something special to share with us. It was important to her and she was excited to tell us things we didn’t know about her day. The more visits she had, the more stimulated she was and that made her life happier. These visits gave her a reason to get up, get dressed, and made her feel important and valued,” Mary Jane recalls.
Mrs. Nelson went to live with Mary Jane during her last 6 weeks of life, and Helen continued to call and visit even though it was a much longer drive for her. “That was helpful to me and it continued to be special to my mother.”
“I would absolutely encourage people to get involved with ElderFriends. It is a valuable program that does more than words can express. It only takes a 60 minute visit once a week to make a difference to an elderly person and the person’s family. Just knowing someone else cares makes a difference to all of us. Helen was very special to our mother and she is very special to us. She and John Thomas made a huge difference in our lives and we are grateful for the time she shared with our mother.”
A Balancing Act
We asked Helen if it was difficult to find time to make the visits to Mrs. Nelson. “You make it a priority in your life and make a commitment. It’s just one day a week for an hour, although we often stayed longer and visited more. But it’s like going to the gym or anything else that’s important to your life – you put it on your calendar and you do it. You will find the time because it’s that important and it’s rewarding.”
It is a balancing act to fit one more thing into your day, especially when you have young children. But when you know that you are making a difference in the lives of people and are demonstrating caring, love and compassion to your children to help them develop important social skills, then it is worth the effort.
As Helen explained to us, “Not only did this help Mrs. Nelson, it helped me. And it gave me and my husband something important to talk about over dinner at night as John Thomas and I shared stories about Mrs. Nelson. It has only been weeks since Mrs. Nelson passed away, but I am getting ready to meet a new elder friend soon. It hurt to lose her, but I know I made a difference and I will continue to make a difference.”
Helen also emphasizes, “Don’t be afraid to introduce your child to situations involving elder friends because they look over those things that worry adults, and only see the beauty in a person. They help bring out that beauty and create new hope. John Thomas knows that we won’t be seeing Mrs. Nelson anymore, but he is ready to meet a new friend and he holds fond memories of those days with Mrs. Nelson. That’s what life is all about.”
For more information, visit the Family Lifeline website or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call Ruth Anne Young at 804.249.5432. We challenge all Richmond moms to search within themselves and see if this is something that might fit within their priorities. And then visit the Family Lifelife website and learn more about the program. You will definitely make a difference in someone’s life.
And you will likely find that they will make a special difference in your life too.