Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger / And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day / Old people just grow lonesome / Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello.”

John Prine, singer-songwriter.

“Hello in There” (1971)

Several months ago, a delightful story about an unlikely friendship circulated the national news and social media. Nearly four-year-old Norah and a recently widowed senior citizen, Mr. Dan, met in a grocery store and carried on like old friends. (Norah’s initial greeting was, “Hi, old person! It’s my birthday!”)

When Norah’s mother thanked Mr. Dan for taking the time to visit with her daughter, he teared up and said,  “No, thank YOU. This has been the best day I’ve had in a long time. You’ve made me so happy, Miss Norah.” This wise mother facilitated the new friends continuing their relationship and they soon became regular companions. The lives of both Norah and Mr. Dan have been changed and enriched.

Stan and I were fortunate to have all four of our parents live well into their eighties. Their love for life, their wisdom, and delight in family provided us and our children and grandchildren with a sense of security and countless warm memories. We loved every moment we had with them and treasure all they taught us.

Along with the positive aspects of aging comes the downside. Watching someone you love experience increased health issues and become less mobile is hard. But the most painful is seeing the loneliness gradually creep into their lives. After our mothers said good-bye to their husbands of 60+ years, their will to live lessened with each day… and they became more and more lonely. The only fix for their “ailment” was time with the people they loved–or, loving people who would give them time.

I was with my mother nearly every day for the last five years of her life. Though she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, she was always keenly aware of whether I was giving her my full attention or distracted by something else. If I checked my phone for calls or answered a text message, she said, “I see that thing is more important than me” or, more forcefully, “Put that thing away.”

Time–it is what we all want more of. Ours is a task-oriented society and we all have long lists of tasks we need to accomplish each day. The senior world is a slow-down world. Our elderly observe the younger generations scurrying around spending time on everything but them. They may be sitting at home alone or in a care facility while we spin ourselves into the ground doing everything that seems to be important. Their desire is for us to “just sit and visit.”

If you are looking for summer activities to do with your children, nothing may be more life-changing than spending time with seniors who are waiting for someone to say, “Hello!”

  • Make cookies or muffins to deliver to aging neighbors or nearby relatives. Enjoy one with them.
  • Invite them for dinner at your home.
  • Become a regular at a local nursing home visiting with residents, playing checkers or cards, or singing. (I have seen people who no longer speak clearly but can sing hymns beautifully)
  • Look for opportunities to help our seniors at the grocery store or with other shopping needs.
  • Volunteer to help an aging neighbor with their flower beds or lawn. Then, share some lemonade and take time for a visit!

Through these experiences, teach your children how to:

  • display good manners and etiquette
  • show respect to older citizens
  • recognize and appreciate the older person’s wisdom
  • address them properly
  • speak clearly and without slang
  • make eye contact
  • give time and full attention to another person
  • have a spirit of service and ministry
  • understand the effects of dementia (A person may not remember you were there a few hours later, but they know you were there at that moment. Every moment holding a hand gives comfort, security, and a sense of worth.)

Around every corner is a lonely person waiting for someone to say, “Hello!”