Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lonely Old Ladies

Now that's a catchy title.

I get a long well with old people. Especially old women. It started when I was 19 with Wilma the ninety-something Quaker turned Mormon. We watched the fourth of July fireworks together on her TV and she died about three months later.

The next year I worked at a nursing home and senior center. I met a Polish woman named Doris who moved like an arthritic bird and was the best trash talker I ever met. We would play Rummikub and she would compliment my moves, saying I played almost as well as her grandson...who was five.

In Provo, I met this lady who had written a book of poetry but couldn't see well enough to type it all up and compile it into a book. I said I'd help her out. I started typing and soon realized the verses sounded very familiar. I brought her poems back to her and asked her if she'd given me the right poems because all of these appeared to be from the same library that Thomas Monson got his poetry from. She told me that it didn't matter who wrote it. Poetry all says the same thing anyway. I was just to put her name on it. (She also told me she was sure that, "Tommy Monson will never be the prophet. He's just not the type." ha.)

My newest friend (we'll call her Louise) lives in the next apartment over from me. She collects alarmingly life-like stuffed Siamese cats (Ever since seeing Lady and the Tramp Siamese cats freak me out). Louise loves loves loves Soapy. She calls herself Sophie's extra grandmother and loves to give her kisses on the shoulder. She actually is trying to kiss Sophie's cheek, but she was recently diagnosed as legally blind. A shoulder is actually a pretty good shot.

I like Louise. We talk about her meetings with her vision impairment specialist who puts stickers on her microwave buttons so she knows what they are. We talk about her children who may or may not love her, depending on how often they call. She explains what it feels like to get divorced, have a stroke, give up smoking, and have a meaningless feud with your next door neighbor. I cut our phone number out of sand paper and pasted it to a card so she will be able to feel it and call us.

I like old ladies partly because they are interesting, partly because they have given up on small talk, and mostly because they are lonely. It makes me feel good to visit people who are lonely. I know that I am giving service, brightening someone's day--and that feels good.

Here's the problem though, it's hard to be friends with lonely old ladies. Because the truth is that you can't make them un-lonely. It's impossible. You come to visit: they are happy. You leave: they are sad. It's almost like giving

Every time I move away from my old lady friends (or they die, which happens just as often) I am a little relieved. Loneliness is a pretty terrible thing. And it is pretty mysterious. How many times a week would I have to visit someone to make them un-lonely? Or is it a question of the amount of people who would have to visit?

I am actually pretty sure, if I dedicated 80% of my time to it, that I could make Louise not lonely. But that's not my job, is it? I mean, I am responsible for my neighbor, but can anyone really be responsible for loneliness?

Anyway, we didn't visit Louise today, and I'm sure she's wishing we had.


Bryan Lewis said...

That was pretty deep. Sometimes I think people are lonely even when other people are around, as if their loneliness depended on what happens on the inside of them rather than the outside. So no matter how much you tried, they will always be lonely and you will always feel guilty for not making them un-lonely. What a vicious cycle.

As for a solution...maybe a roomful of mirrors. That way they will always see someone, and that someone they see understands them completely.

Katie said...

1. A roomful of mirrors wouldn't work very well for a blind person... unless they were covered with sandpaper.
2. I think there are different kinds of lonliness. For instance, sometimes someone is lonely for another specific someone and no one but that someone can make it all magically go away. And sometimes they are just extremely starved for company at all. I think, in general, the elderly probably fall more into the latter category of just being starved for company, but surely if you've had that many older friends die, they've had more go. On some level they must also be lonely for a specific someone or a whole list of specific someones. You can probably only hope to cure the company-craving loneliness. So, don't feel like a failure.

Greg said...

I think that when Louise gets a visit from you and lovely Sophia Jane, that she probably feels less lonely for quite a while, because she could think back on and remember that sweet shoulder she got to kiss. I'm glad Sophia J. has a grandma close by to kiss her. She's such a sweetie, even when she's wrestling with her daddy.

Greg said...

It's not Greg, but Trish.

Nathan said...

When we lived in Germany, we had a navigation system in the car. And we named the navigation system Louise because she had a British accent.

Bryan Lewis said...

I was laughing while trying to imagine dad saying those things mom wrote.