Grandma "Mormor" Skantze

Yesterday I walked to my grandmother-in-law’s home in Gothenburg, Sweden. She is usually exceptionally spry and ready to take on the challenges of the day for a 98-year-old, but of late she’s been feeling a bit off of her game. As I slowly walked into her room where she lay in her bed, she noticed that I was a bit apprehensive and asked, “You’re not afraid of me,” with an adorable Swedish accent. She then beckened me to her bedside and placed her hand on the side of my face softly.  “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” she continued.

“How are you feeling,” I asked.
“Better today, but yesterday was hard. I felt so lonely and scared.”
“Is there a reason you felt that way?”
Her face became a bit somber and responded, “When you get old like me, you feel a bit forgotten and alone. The day goes so slow, and all I have are my thoughts. Also, I didn’t feel so healthy. It’s hard when you get old.”

As we spoke, I began to think of the many elderly people who sit alone on a regular basis without anyone to talk to, without human touch…without purpose.   It’s becoming more and more obvious to me that we as human beings seem to forget and overlook those who remind us of the inevitable or the less than perfect circumstances.

For instance, in my neighborhood, there are a handful of lonely characters who roam around town. One includes a Down’s Syndrome girl named Linda and  small, cross-eyed fellow named Nicky. I’m always happy to see both of them and make sure I get an update on their lives. Nicky loves to spend the majority of his time in my favorite coffee shop with his massive headphones on while standing in front of his computer dancing and lip synching to Celine Dion. Once he looked my way with a huge smile on his face and said, “sometimes you just gotta groooove.”

And Linda is the recycling queen. She tries her best to be positive, but regularly shares her frustrations with the recycling depot’s employee Ramone. “I’m so frustrated with Ramone today,” she recently said. “He didn’t take all of my bottles and he’s always late to wooorrrrk. I wish they’d get someone elsssse to take his plaaaaccce.” Linda often draws her words out for emphasis. She is always happy to speak with me and has shared that she feels alone.

I think it important to examine our deepest fears when we reflect on the elderly and the disabled. I have to admit…I am afraid to get old!! I don’t want to have more wrinkles on my face or forget names or have a hard time walking down the sidewalk. I don’t want to be forgotten and alone. I also fear getting into an accident and becoming disabled either mentally or physically. It may be that because of these fears, it is far easier to lock our elderly away in homes and try to pretend that the disabled don’t exist and let them wander the streets alone.

Mormor, Melvin the Dog & Me

This is a pretty heavy subject but, I think if we face our feelings surrounding this issue we can help both those who need connection and ourselves. It has been said that “if a man is to gain his life, he must be willing to lose it.” I interpret this as meaning…if we stare our fears straight in the eyes and act with courage, we will create a better society and a better life.

Life gets busy and stressful, but we can’t forget those who need us most. Don’t let the lonely sit by themselves through their birthdays, holidays, the weekends and more. Let’s reach beyond ourselves and our tiny, scripted worlds!

I decided to do that very thing as I sat next to Grandma Skantze’s bed yesterday. With my 35th birthday coming up in 8 days, she asked me what I will be doing.  “Will you be having a party?” I looked at her and said. “Of course! We are having it at your house!” Her faced beamed and she was instantly filled with purpose. “Here? I would love that…it would be wonderful…wonderful. We’ll have a big party.”

Something inside said that she needed it. She needs to have her home filled with young people celebrating life…and that’s just what is going to happen on May 19th! Party on!!

Challenge for the Day – Reach out to your grandmother, grandfather, elderly aunt/uncle or the disabled. And remember that adopting would be an amazing idea as well!