Saturday, September 3, 2011

Show Those You Love That You Love Them

I frequently end this blog with a phrase, "Life is short: show those you love that you love them." Whether it be familial love, spousal love, sibling love, neighborly love, or friendly love, there are people in your life who you care about, and doing things to demonstrate that you care about them in return is so incredibly important. Why? Because life is short.

A number of years ago, I was like so many others: caught up in my own life, dealing with my personal situations, problems, and concerns that I did not take time to do things to show others that I cared about them. I would do the "big things," like give birthday cards to siblings, give a call or visit on the most important dates for various reasons, but most of the time, I was self-absorbed.

Then Mr. B died. Who was he? An elderly man who lived behind another neighbor (Mrs. T) whose lawn I mowed. Mr. B was a kind, elderly man. He lived alone in a house where he and his wife raised their family. His wife had died some years earlier, so he remained alone in the house that he owned and didn't want to leave. Sometimes he would ask me to help him with yard work. He would say, "the older I get, the larger the property seems to become!" I would help him if I thought I had the time and wanted to make a few extra bucks, but I didn't do it as much as I probably could have.

One August day, I was mowing Mrs. T's lawn, looking forward to being paid for my work. I had already spent the money (in my mind) on something-or-other that I thought I "needed." I noticed that Mr. B's back door was open, which was unusual. I would look over there from time to time as I pushed that mower around. I noticed that Mr. B's lawn was awfully high, which was unusual. He usually kept a spotlessly trimmed yard.

After Mrs. T paid me my $10 for the lawn mowing, I decided to walk over to Mr. B's house to see if he were around, and perhaps offer to mow his lawn since it was so high -- I thought another payment for lawnmowing would be nice.

That's when I saw him -- collapsed on the floor right inside the back door. He had died. I was afraid and didn't know what to do. He was the first dead person I ever saw. I ran to Mrs. T's house and began to cry. I do not remember what I said, but an ambulance was called and the cops came. I was interviewed and I remember being told that it wasn't my fault. My Mom came to pick me up, hold me, comfort me, and reassure me.

I found out later that Mr. B had died three days before I found him. He was there, all alone. No one cared. No one was checking on him. I felt profoundly upset and moved by this experience. Imagine -- dying in your own home and no one knowing about it for three whole days!

That is when I began to be much more attentive to what I call my "network of senior pals." I started reaching out, making phone calls, dropping by for visits, and offering to help out with yardwork and home maintenance. At first, my offers to do work was for the money -- I admit. I was a kid without an allowance (in as large a family as we had, we didn't have an allowance). I needed to work.

But I realized that some of these older folks with whom I had begun to develop friendships were reluctant to hire anyone to help with work at their homes for three reasons: 1) they were reluctant to admit that they could not do strenuous activities like they once did; 2) they were rather particular about how they wanted things done, and were under the impression that no one else could do it the way they wanted the work done; and 3) they were frugal. Children of the Great Depression often are quite miserly with their money; even though they had plenty, they wanted to save it for when "they really needed it."

I do not have a cast of thousands that I look after, although it feels that way sometimes. As I have gotten older and have worked "my senior pal attention" into my daily routine, I divide the attention these ways:

1) some of my senior pals are quite independent and routinely hire the services they require, so for these folks, I send a birthday card and give them a call or exchange email from time to time;

2) some folks need advice, like in determining when they must call a professional vs. having me or a handyman do something to help out. I am sort of an "on-call" adviser to these folks. About 2 - 3 times each week, I receive a call saying, "a mutual friend (x) suggested I call you...." That's sweet.

3) some folks are very lonely, and just want to spend some time with a younger person. They have often said how much they feel isolated, being surrounded by "all these old people." It's something that I have learned about the psychology of aging. One does not want to admit that one is "old" but looks around, sees people of the same age, and prefers to engage with younger people. For these folks, I stop by for a visit, give a call, send an email, give a shout-out frequently via Facebook (if they're on it), and send cards for more than birthdays. I dunno, I may spend about 10-15 hours each week focusing on my lonely senior pals.

4) some folks need help and will not admit it. I learn through conversations how to sense that help may be needed. Rather than ask, "may I take you to the store?" which will always be declined with a response, "I'm fine," I say this, "Look, I'll be going by your house on my way to the grocery store. I'm a guy -- I don't know that much about what kinds of groceries are good to get. Can you help me out by letting me pick you up and go grocery shopping?" What I do is turn the psychology -- older folks want to help others, but don't want to be offered help because they feel it is an imposition. I continue to find ways to suggest, "here is how you can help me" when I am clearly attempting to do the opposite. This method has been very successful.

5) I serve as a "kvetcher" on behalf of seniors. "Kvetch" is Yiddish and means "incessantly complain." If one of my senior pals has been done wrong by a company, particularly one of those monopolies like the phone or cable company, I write letters, get on the phone, and continue to kvetch until my senior pal's problem is resolved. Grrrrr... (I even have the President of the local phone monopoly on speed dial!)

I dunno, there are other ways that I involve myself with this network, but it is much more than a one-way street. These folks have done so much to help me in many intangible ways. I truly feel that my world is so much better. They give me a sense of purpose, continue to help me focus on the positive, and sustain my spirit.

I am not suggesting by this post that I think that I am the only one who extends love to others in various ways, or that I am saving the world. I truly believe that all of us can make a powerful and positive difference in the lives of others. We just have to make room for it in our lives to try.

I suggest that you look around, and ask simple questions like at a grocery store, turn to an older person who may look lonely and ask, "what do you think is a good brand of (whatever) to select for my family for dinner?" or to someone in the pew next to you at church, "I find that lawn mowing helps me achieve my exercise goals. May I mow your lawn sometime?" or to the senior neighbor down the street, "I bought a new battery-powered drill and want to fix something -- like that broken door you mentioned. Can you help me try out my new drill by letting me fix your door?"

These are a few examples, taken from my "real" life. I know that everyone is different, and every situation is not the same. You may not know enough about someone to ask questions to frame them in such a way as someone else helping you by you helping them. But opening the door, having a conversation, and keeping the communication going surely are ways to show that you care.

Life is short: show those you love that you love them.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I remember when that incident happened, and I observed how it changed you. You took a tragedy and made yourself better for it.

This is what I admire about you so much. You have a knack for making yourself a better person when bad things happen, instead of dwelling on the negative and obsessing with guilt.

You didn't realize, but I counted the number of times during the three weeks that I spent with you in August how many times you touched others -- over 90 in just three weeks. You are an amazing man who I am truly honored to have close in my heart and hold closely as my brother.

Greetings from warm and sunny Venezia!