Reach Out To The Lonely

While wasting time on social media doing some research, I stumbled across an article about the relationship between loneliness and longevity. The title of the article was Study Shows the More You Hang Out With Your Mom, the Longer She’ll Live.  Since I really like my Mom and would like her to be around until she’s about a hundred years old and I want to hang out with my kids and grandkids as much as possible for as long as possible, I had to find out what the article was all about.

Turns out that people who are lonely have higher mortality rates than those who have regular interactions with friends and family. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since companionship and community are crucial for everyone, regardless of age. What is curious, however, is that someone actually has to do a study to figure out that we should spend more time with friends and family, especially those that are single, widowed, divorced or otherwise alone.

Like everyone else, I have good intentions, but less than stellar follow through. Plans to visit loved ones – or even to call or send a text or email go by the wayside when life gets busy and when I don’t get to it I tell myself I will do it tomorrow or next week or soon.  But sometimes soon doesn’t ever come and sometimes there aren’t more tomorrows. 

It’s hard to make time for all my family members and friends, even though I’m closer geographically to some of them than I have been in years.  We’re all busy, busy busy, things to do, places to go and while we say that our relationships are the most important things, our calendars and bank statements tell us what our real priorities are.  With our free time we watch TV, surf the internet, catch up on social media, run errands, go shopping, and for most people, at least eight to ten or more hours a day are devoted to a job with it’s corresponding commute. 

You would think that knowing this, recognizing that there’s a disparity between what I say is important and what I actually do, that I would change my behavior.  Despite adding a few lines to my annual goals like call or email this person this often or send a handwritten note to that person, or visit this person, or meet these folks for lunch, it has rarely happened with any consistency. 

There doesn’t seem to be an easy fix here, at least I haven’t figured out one.  If you’ve got this nailed, please leave a comment on the blog or on Facebook.  In the meantime, call up someone who lives alone and hang out for a while.  You just might save their life.

Powerless

Michigan weather is a tricky thing.  There are several months in the year where the temperature can vary by forty or fifty degrees – not just in a month or week, but sometimes in a day. There are glorious, sunny days.  There are days when it’s so humid, going outside feels like stepping into a sauna.  There’s snow and rain, sometimes on the same day. There are also straight line winds and tornadoes.  While it’s lovely when there’s a light dusting of fluffy, white snow, there are also ice storms that cover everything with a thick layer of icy shellac.  This winter has been no exception, the most recent event was a day of wind gusts up to sixty miles per hour. 

If you’ve not experienced this type of wind (which I heard was of the velocity of a category one hurricane), let me describe some of what happened.  Giant evergreen trees were uprooted.  The kids water table was flung across the yard and landed upside down in the raspberry patch.  One of our small buildings completely tipped over.  The kid’s fort was ripped out of the ground and lies crumpled in a heap.  Doors on the second floor of the barn and granary were ripped open and nearly ripped from their hinges.  A piece of plywood being used to cover a hole in the barn was blown across the yard and when I tried to carry it and tuck it back inside the barn, I feared I might become airborne and had to call out for assistance.  And the worst?  The bucket I’d been using to hold pet waste was flung far out into the field, it’s contents scattered across the lawn for me to pick up again.

It will take a few people to get this right side up again

Not sure if this is fixable

The power went out on a Wednesday afternoon around 2:00.  At first it was no big deal – the thermostat kept dropping and by bedtime was down to fifty-nine degrees.  I bundled up, tossed a sleeping bag over my blankets, and hopped into bed.  By morning the temperature had dropped another eleven degrees, so I quickly dressed and cared for the chickens, then headed out to run errands (like buying pastries), confident that the power would be back on when I returned later in the day. Unfortunately, the power outage affected over 1.2 million people in Michigan and even though crews were called in from other states, the power remained out.

When bedtime rolled around on Thursday night, the temperature was forty-eight degrees.  Along with the sleeping bag, I issued an invitation to Hannah to join me on the bed.  I curled my body into a C, keeping her warmth dead center.  When we woke on Friday morning, it was a balmy forty-one degrees. After checking on the chickens, I headed to a relative’s house to warm up and figure out some next steps since the temperature was predicted to drop down to the teens overnight.  Since several family members live in the area and were affected by the storm, most of us ended up at this relatives house.  It was kind of fun at first, cooking a big meal and hanging out with everyone, but by the time Friday night came, I knew Hannah and I could no longer stay at our house – we would need to seek shelter elsewhere.

Fortunately, my Mom lives fairly close by and she was happy to let Hannah and I come over.    As much as I enjoyed spending time with my Mom and appreciated her tolerance of Hannah, I longed to be home.  Surely the power would come back on soon! It didn’t happen Friday, it didn’t happen Saturday, and by Sunday, though some relatives had power, it was still very dark and cold at the farm.  Creative attempts to keep the chicken’s water from freezing failed so various relatives alternated taking trips to the farm to make sure they had water to drink.  On Sunday, a notice was finally posted that power would be back on by 11:30 pm on Monday. 

Hannah loves my Mom so much!

It finally came back on around 3:30 in the afternoon on Monday.  After one last dinner with my Mom, Hannah and I loaded up and headed back home.  The furnace was working hard and the temperature had already climbed to sixty-six.  When I got into bed that night, however, it was like climbing into a refrigerator.  The temperature had dropped to twenty-nine degrees over the duration of the outage and while the air temperature was in the sixties, the furnishings had not yet reacclimated.

This was the longest I’d ever been without electricity and while I didn’t actually suffer (sleeping in forty degrees doesn’t count as suffering, even though it was a bit uncomfortable), I found that I was rather cranky about the whole thing.  My frustration wasn’t with the power company – they were clearly working as hard and as long as they possibly could.  Initially I thought the source of my frustration was that I wasn’t home.  While I feel very welcome and comfortable at my Mom’s, it wasn’t home.  It’s not even that I missed my stuff or my bed or whatever, it was that I missed my routine.  At home I can do whatever I want, stay up late, sleep in, eat what I want, tromp around the field, play with my dog, putter, and have all my stuff handy in case I might want or need it.  When I’m at other people’s homes, even for just a few days, I don’t always know what to do with myself.  It’s difficult to just be there without all my familiar distractions and things I like to do.  It’s also a little uncomfortable to infringe upon someone else’s hospitality.  I know you didn’t invite me, but can I take up residence in your house for a few days? 

Now that I’ve had more time to reflect, however, I think what I really missed was the false sense of control that I believe I have over my life.  It’s pretty funny that I believe I actually have control over anything other than my own choices.  Surely I’ve had enough experiences in my lifetime to know that I’m not in charge of the world, even though I sometimes believe that if I was in charge, we would all be a lot better off!  Ha, how egoistical is that?!?! 

With any luck, there won’t be any extended power outage any time soon and I can go on pretending that I am in charge.  Or maybe I could just accept my role as human and let God be in charge of the rest.

Another Bite Of Applesauce

He’s tired, but I keep encouraging him.  “How about another bite of applesauce?”  He says yes so I lift it to his lips, making sure that my aim is true and that he cleans off the spoon.  As long as his response is yes, I keep feeding and asking.

She’s been sick for a few days, but now she’s interested in having something to eat.  A big proponent of the BRAT Diet (Bananas, Rice, Apples, and Toast) after a bout of the flu, I get a bowl of applesauce.  Even though she’s pretty good at feeding herself, I sit with her.  “How about another bite of applesauce?”  She opens wide and I spoon it in.  Before long the bowl is empty and we move on to something else.

There’s a difference of about eighty years between the two of them, one at the end of life, the other just beginning.  It’s a difficult thing, being with someone whose health has deteriorated, who is only a shadow of their former self.  It’s also a difficult thing when a one-year-old gives no notice and suddenly covers you with the hot, steamy contents of their stomach.

These are not things I’m required to do.  Someone else can feed them, care for them, nurse them back to health.  If I want, I can stay far, far away, and to be completely honest, there have been times when that seems appealing.  Yet, I want to be there, I want to help, I want to show love in this tangible way.  These are my people, the ones that God blessed me with.  Regardless of the path our relationship has taken, I love them despite their flaws and failings, because of their quirks and uniqueness but mostly because they are my family.

When I was working and fantasized about how my retirement would look, I envisioned long, luxurious days walking around the farm, reading my giant stack of books, visiting with friends, writing blog posts and maybe even a book.  Those things have happened about five percent of the time.  The days don’t feel luxurious, they go by at lightening speed, sometimes I can’t even remember what day it is. 

It seems that this is what I should be doing, that I am in this position for such a time as this.  The day will come when these two don’t need my help, one will be gone and one will be grown.  Both transitions will be bittersweet but I’m thankful that for today I can help with another bite of applesauce.