I walked up to the bakery counter in my local supermarket with my eyes drawn to two Apple Fritters. These were going to be an indulgence my husband and I would enjoy – his with a coffee and me with a tea. As I placed my fritters in a bag I felt the presence of someone and then heard his voice. “Oh, you are just like me. You where a jean jacket with layers underneath – see, I’m doing that too.”
He was an elderly man, slim build with a twinkle in his eyes and a big smile. I said, “Yes, some days layering with a jean jacket makes more sense than a heavy jacket.” He agreed and there he had found a gem of commonality in which to build upon conversation. The man recalled the price of his first jeans and the great fit of his first Levis denim jacket. Another older lady briefly joined in to reflect on how many pairs of jeans she had, confirming that jeans were and always will be relevant in fashion.
As she smiled and wondered off my new supermarket friend showed me photos on his phone and shared that his wife had died of cancer last year and he makes it his mission to get out every day for a walk and talk to people. At 81 years of age he still works as a Commissionaire – preferring graveyard shift – and says, “It’s important to like your job, purpose keeps me going.” As I stood there I heard about his two sons, was given a brief intro to how his parents raised him and his siblings, I learned that he held job at CN Rail in the early 1970’s and so much more.
By this time my husband had joined in the conversation and so there we all stood in small huddle with a cart full of groceries. It briefly flashed into my mind that time was passing and we had a list of things to get but then just as quickly I realized this was more important. This man found a way to reach others, and whether he had always been an open book or was given advice to just get out of his house, here he stood with strangers. There was his smile, sense of humour and a genuine need to connect.
After awhile our time together came to a close, we shook hands and bid each other good day.
This was a reminder that so many seniors live alone. Their life partners and friends have passed away and this world becomes more stranger by the minute. Seniors – just like this gentleman – can spend hours, days or even weeks without meaningful companionship and so today may have been a rare gift.
In our youth we don’t even think about being without friends, lovers and family. In our middle age we consider the possibility of life’s fragility but still, in the midst of challenge, somebody is there. However, in our senior years there is the real possibility that those that have held our secrets and hands no longer exist and we find ourselves in the company of strangers, trying desperately to move beyond loneliness.
Whether it’s common friendliness or loneliness that brings us together, share a moment with a senior today, a smile or chat. Help at a local seniors centre. Encourage a senior in your life to participate in activities they love. Engage with what they love even if its sitting through one more game of Scrabble, watching their favourite show or anything else that brings them joy. Be present.