All the lonely people
I walked past the fridge at work this afternoon and burst into tears.
At work we stick photos of our grandchildren or pets on the fridge. They’re talking points for our clients, who all have memory loss or dementia. Most older people have held babies or had pets so these pictures prompt stories of the past. The sentences may be incomplete, the word-finding skills faded, but the facial animation and the light in their eyes are unmistakable. Their hearts have been warmed, their lives enriched, by photos on a fridge.
We work using the Eden Principles, created by Dr William Thomas. The concepts are so powerful and practical they’ve travelled all around the world, and Eden Houses and Eden Associates dot the globe.
The Eden Principles state that it’s better to live in a garden. Loneliness, helplessness and boredom are alleviated when people have regular contact with people, animals, birds, nature. It makes sense. Who can live happily without these things? Hence the dog who runs down the hallway where I work, the chooks, canaries, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, visits from a playgroup, and kangaroos and black cows peering over the fence. And the photos on the fridge.
So why the tears?
I live 500 kilometres from my grandchildren and because of the pandemic I don’t know when I’ll hold them again. We think of social distancing as keeping arm’s length from strangers in the street, but it includes not holding beloved babies if there’s a chance we’ve been in contact with virus carriers. I can’t risk travelling 500 kilometers to the capital city as the unwitting bringer of a disease to young families who are doing their best to stop its progress.
I follow the hygiene rules and don’t hug the clients who come from their homes to have social interaction with others during the day. I smile at them from a distance, keep eye contact for as long as possible and touch my heart. They say people need at least eight hugs a day for optimum mental health. So, now, it boils down to this: people need to see eight heart-touches a day.
But the tears prompted by the photos on the fridge is just the beginning. I’m reminded of lines from a Beatles song:
All the lonely people,
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people,
Where do they all belong?
If (or when) we close our doors there will be a lot of elderly people with dementia missing out on regular contact with other people, animals, birds, nature. Many of them live alone. Most of them can’t use mobile phones or computers. The TV news is confusing and frightening. The gas stove is potentially life-threatening and a calendar meaningless.
The other day, one of our clients said of a support worker:
She is the blood in my veins.
What will happen to him when we close our doors and he can’t come to spend the day with us?
To answer the questions raised in the Beatles song about lonely people:
Lonely people come from everywhere.
Lonely people belong to you and me.
During the COVID-19 pandemic we’re going to have to be creative and think outside the box to find ways to care for vulnerable people.
In the meantime, I walk past the fridge at work, pause in front of the photos of my four baby grandchildren, and touch my heart.
I do it eight times a day.
Do babies understand the depth of feeling in a heart-touch?
With love, Marlane