Grandparent’s Day: Treating Loneliness

by Dr. Steven J.Callis

Comedian Bill Dana related a story as Jose Jimenez, deep sea diver.  He was on the ocean floor all alone, and coming at him from one direction was a huge shark, a large octopus from another direction, and a barracuda from yet another.  “And then, something terrible happened:  they went away, and I was all alone again.”

            We do not relish thinking about it, but the Beatles did not want us to forget, with their 1966 song, Eleanor Rigby:  Ah, look at all those lonely people.  Where do they come from, where do they belong?  Bobby Vinton sang about Mr. Lonely who has nobody to call his own.  America’s Dan Peek wrote a song “for all the lonely people.”  Songs abound on the topic of loneliness.

            Grandparents Day has been celebrated on the Sunday following Labor Day ever since 1978 when President Jimmy Carter declared that day a national holiday.  We jokingly suspect that a grandparent came up with the idea, but the actual founder of Grandparents Day was a West Virginia mother of 15 children.

            Marian McQuade had much more in mind than a mere celebration.  Her purpose was to raise awareness for elderly nursing home residents, fearing that they were missing out on important family bonding due to their need for intensive care.  Her campaign was grounded on the fact that we can learn much from our entire elderly community.

            In 2003, McQuade confessed that she never intended Grandparents Day to be about any one particular form of celebration.  In a word, she wanted to “alleviate some loneliness.”

            A couple of weeks ago I was invited to an appreciation dinner for volunteers who serve at an assisted living facility.  My heart was warmed to see approximately 30 individuals attending the dinner, because it helped me realize how many people invest themselves in the lives of those who can no longer live independently.

            Many grandparents are physically able to lift their grandchildren, play with them, bake with them, take them to the zoo or the lake, or attend their ball games and school plays and other special events.  It is a good thing to honor grandparents on a specific day – their day.

            We would do well to remember, however, those grand persons who are no longer physically or emotionally able to fill their role as they might desire.  They still know how to love, and how it feels to be loved.  They still need to know that somebody cares.

            Maybe one day this week you could take time to visit a nursing home or another type of care facility and brighten someone’s day by relieving their loneliness for a few minutes.  You may even decide to “adopt” one person and gift them with a weekly visit.  Happy Grandparents Day everyone, and let’s continue the campaign that Marian McQuade began 40 years ago to honor our elders.        

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