[Guest Post] Writing the Elderly
February 18, 2016 in Journal
I’ve enjoyed taking part in LetterMo the last three years, so am so excited to have this opportunity to guest post, and especially something as near and dear to my heart as mail for the elderly.
In spite of the fact I grew up hundreds of miles from my great aunts, and my paternal grandparents, it seems I’ve often been around the elderly. When I was in preschool and early elementary school my grandmother who lived near us worked at an adult daycare, so my mother, sister, and I volunteered there often doing projects with the elderly participants. That’s also where I had my first pen pal, one of the participants… although I don’t think I was reading yet and my mom had to help me!
Then in middle school I “babysat” my great-grandmother one afternoon a week. High school and college brought attending the traditional service at our church where most the other worshipers were elderly. Through those experiences I learned how much the elderly long for and enjoy interaction with the younger generation, and I learned how much a hug could mean.
But, as I said earlier, my great aunts and one set of my grandparents have never lived close to me, how could I be a part of their lives to encourage them? Then my grandmother moved in with us, and I saw how she would light up when she got a card from her nieces and nephews. She would show it to us when we went in, often repeatedly. One time a nephew wrote a letter and she was THRILLED, kept reading it, and saying how she didn’t know if she ever got a letter like that.
And with that, a light bulb went off in my head.
I had already started sending more mail in general, so why not try to send them something more often? As I’ve taken part in A Month of Letters Challenge I started sending Valentine’s cards to my great aunts. Then it grew to trying to send something from my family every month or so, just simple things like dollar store cards for New Years, Valentines, St Patrick’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, while trying to include a note about something that’s going on around here or the weather. This year I was sure to get all their birthdays, so we are doing that, too.
The response blew me away! No, my mailbox didn’t fill up, although I did get a couple responses; most of them are either getting too old or have too many grandkids to whom they need to send cards to write often. But when they do write, or when I get a chance to see them occasionally, they are sure to mention getting them.
A few years ago I got a chance to visit my great, great aunt, that’d I’d only met once, in a nursing home in another state. She had notes and photos displayed that I’d sent! As my aunts were trying to tell her daughters–who I had never met–who I was, they said they knew who I was, I guess in part from the photos and notes I’d sent. Another great aunt told me it made her feel “like we love and care about her” and her daughter kept telling me that it really meant a lot to her mom. Another great aunt told me she really appreciated getting them, and her daughters said she always reported to them when she’d heard from me. That great aunt even told my aunt at a family shower how she really liked getting cards from me. Another one was eager to show me how she displayed and kept them all! I think every one of them, and a number of their children, have mentioned to me how much it means. I could not have imagined how big a deal it was for them!!!
In a way I’ve become the family “newsman” giving updates on my immediate family, and sometimes sharing photos of larger family get-togethers or of a mutual family member in the armed forces I saw online. Of my seven great (& great, great) aunts, only two are online or texting at all, and that’s pretty limited. So, if no one contacts them the old fashioned way, whether by phone or mail, they really lose touch and miss their extended family they so care for. This is true for so many of the elderly today, and some as they start to have problems with their hearing, it becomes hard to keep up over the phone. Their only contact may be through the mail.
But it’s not only the elderly we’re close to that appreciate us writing. Of those I write, only a couple had I seen even yearly as a child. I saw the same thing with my grandmother last summer when she had a to stay in the hospital and nursing home for a month. My mom signed her up with the Facebook page “From the Heart” and a number of people from across the country sent her cards. To her it didn’t matter that she didn’t know them, she was just thrilled to get cards and kept showing them to us and everyone else. Her roommate even said the room would be dull once she left and took her cards, so I sent her one!
And as a caretaker for my elderly grandmother, I know how encouraging it is for the caregivers, too. Being a caregiver can be a hard, thankless, and lonely job. Often one is so busy with providing care it’s hard to find time and energy to do much cheering. In our case, we’re the only children and grandchildren involved in her life and care, and her sister-in-law and nieces and nephews are out of state. So, when someone (especially one of our friends) takes the time to send her a card or note it helps us feel less alone. Also, when she was in the nursing home, we had the cards from From the Heart sent to a friend’s business (without a PO Box, we don’t like giving our address out online) and picked them up from time to time, and then every time we visited her, we gave her one when we left so she had something to look forward to/do after we left. It really was a great help and stress relief to us.
Would you consider adding the elderly to your letter writing list to put some mail in the hands of someone to whom it may mean the world? If you have older friends or family members, that is a great place to start. Or ask your friends or pen pals if they have one they’d like you to write, especially if they are caring for them.
If not, you can check with your local nursing homes, adult day cares, or senior center to find people in your community in need of some mail cheer. If you’re a member of a church or other religious or social group you could check with them. I know our church keeps a list of homebounds and highlights one in the bulletin each week as well as collects cards at Christmas to be hand delivered to them and I have seen a similar thing at another church.
There are also places online to find people to mail to, as I mentioned earlier “From the Heart” is one we’ve used personally. I hope you can do this and find it as rewarding as I do, maybe not in getting mail, but in knowing you’ve helped and brighten someone else’s day!