NEIGHBORS HELPING NEIGHBORS

In the past, neighbors were friends, and you could count on them in times of need. The neighborhood was a support system primarily for older people living alone. Someone always visited or checked on them. Nowadays, most people don’t know their neighbors, and personal contact is limited to a quick good morning on your jog or waving as you drive by. What has happened to us?

COVID has isolated us. Masks prevent reading facial expressions or seeing smiles, we can’t hug or touch each other, can’t breathe each other’s air, gather socially, or be in close proximity, and we fear anyone might potentially be harboring the virus. Our lives have become limited to leaving home only for work or essential shopping, and the restrictions on recreational activities have created emotional problems and depression for many.

We are herd animals by nature. We need socialization, and our emotional wellbeing depends on our interactions with each other. This is especially true for seniors. It’s a researched fact that seniors with little social contact are at a high risk of developing depression and dementia. And without social interaction, those with dementia experience an accelerated rate of progression of symptoms.

As an artist and writer, I usually spend a lot of time alone and only socialize occasionally. But those social interactions were meaningful. I live in Costa Rica with no family here, but the saving grace is I live in an artist colony and have neighbors nearby. During this crisis, I have become aware of how important commitment to being there for each other has become. I’m 72, and two years ago fell in my studio, broke my hip, and was found by my neighbor. Everyone in the colony helped, from finding a local girl to care for me in recovery, checking in on me regularly, shopping for me, and even one person came and constructed small ramps to get in and out in the wheelchair. I still limp and walk with a cane, and in our small town, I never have to ask for help; it is always offered beforehand.

We need to wake up! Our relationships with each other are essential. We should be there for each other. It’s time we look beyond our own personal life and consider the wellbeing of the whole; this begins close to home. Create a neighborhood network and let your neighbors know you could use help or are available to help and collect everyone’s phone numbers. The seniors living alone, the handicapped, single moms, or the person caregiving another, call them just to say hi and offer to help if they need it. Online social media and zoom make it possible to create friendships that later become in-person socializing when the crisis ends.

Remember the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and in these times, “It takes a village to care for each other.” So get to it, create a village.

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