Sunday, May 1, 2011

Can we get back to being neighborly?

This past week my Visiting Angels agency received a few calls for care. There are different reasons seniors, families, or friends call, but its always because someone is in need or someone is worried.

More times than not the calls come from a concerned family member. The concerns are typically around safety issues, but sometimes they are from family members who live a long distance away from the person they are worried about.

I remember growing up in Detroit when neighbors knew each other, and looked out for one another. The neighborhood was a busy place. Neighbors took a walk to one another's house's for coffee, talked over fences, sat on porches conversing with neighbors who walked by, and kids were playing in the streets, each other's yards and homes. People actually did borrow a cup of sugar, an egg, or the 1 missing ingredient for the dinner recipe, already in progress. Everyone came out of their homes to help a neighbor whose car was stuck in the snow, and came to each others aid with dinner's and support if a family was in need. We knew everyone's name and their living situation. Not because people were nosey, although a neighborhood always had at least one nosey neighbor, but because it was normal to know your neighbors and look out for their well being.

Today most neighborhoods are quiet, lives are busier, and many don't even know the person next door. If you lived in the 1960's and even a bit into the 1970's or before that time, you also probably miss the friendlier and more social times, because you know the difference.

One of the phone calls we received for care this week was from a family who lives out of state and has concern for an elderly family member who lives here alone. I met with her, and had the best time getting to know her! I found out she has very little socialization. An occasional visit from an old friend and the visits from her family when they are able to travel here, but that is pretty much the only socialization she has. She is a very pretty, sweet woman with a good sense of humor. We enjoyed our visit, I ran an errand for her and returned. I helped her put some groceries away, gave her a hug, and anticipating the next time I would get to visit with her. I really can't wait to spend more time with this lovely lady, she was the bright spot at the end of a long week!

Meeting and spending time with her gave me a great amount of joy, and I wondered why her neighbors don't take the time to know her, visit with her, or check on her. She has lived there for over 60 years, so it's not because SHE is knew to the neighborhood. I think the neighbors are missing out. They're missing out on knowing and spending time with a wonderful woman, missing out on the blessing that comes from helping another, and missing out on the joy of living in a friendly, caring neighborhood.

After I hugged my new elderly friend I wondered when she last had a hug, when she experienced human touch? I would suspect it was the last time her family was able to visit. They come every couple months, but is that enough socialization or human interaction? For most of us who live with spouses and/or kids, or even have friends we spend time with, that isn't something we think about, because we have social interaction, and human touch.

Her family wants her to move to their home, so it isn't a lack of family caring for and about her. She doesn't want to lose her independence or leave the home she has been in all these years. As an outsider looking in, it appears choosing would be a trade-off. I wonder if I would trade my independence for being with extended family? Would you? It shouldn't even have to be a choice.
The only thing I see lacking in this lady's life is friendship, which wouldn't even be an issue if we actually took time to be neighborly.

Take a moment to think what it would be like to live alone without any socialization for months at a time, except for a few phone calls. Think about losing your spouse, and 1 friend after another as you age. Think about living without hugs, the touch of a hand, or seeing a friendly face. Although my new friend doesn't appear lonely, her appreciation of our visit and conversation was evident. Not only could I see the joy in her eyes, she thanked me several times. The funny thing is, I think I left with more joy and gratitude than I brought.

Have we gotten so focused on ourselves that we can't take the time to meet a neighbor, check on an elderly person, or extend a hand or a hug? Although we believe we have to attend to ourselves and our lives, we are depriving ourselves of some of the greatest joy's in life. The dishes, laundry, TV shows, or another hour tending to our careers will never fulfill us like being a good neighbor will. When our last days are upon us, it is the moments we spent with each other and the memories of our lives, that we will think about and cherish. It will never be the work we didn't do.

Some of my best memories are the times my family and I spent with our neighbors back in the 60's in Detroit. Neighbors were always in and out of our home. I recall lots of laughter, love, and friendship. Even the darkest times were shared by lots of caring people.

Take time this month, even this week, to meet a neighbor, share some coffee and conversation. Ask around if there's an elderly person or couple in the neighborhood that may need to see a friendly face or help with something they are no longer able to do. Visit an aging family member, invite their neighbors over to get to know one another. I promise you when you extend yourself to another, the blessing will be yours. It just may be the best hours of your day, week, month, or year.

Angil Tarach-Ritchey can be reached for questions or comments at or other contact options at

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