Now more than ever, the term Social Isolation is coming up on television, through social media and in conversations. It refers to the fact that with COVID-19 and widespread social distancing in place, many of us are not in direct contact with each other, our families and our friends. Most of us are not working the way we used to work and are busy juggling work, kids and our own personal well-being.
June 11 will mark 3 months since my mom passed away from cancer. She was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in July of 2019 and at that time given 3 months. With faith, trust in her doctors and a support system of family and friends, she was able to enjoy 6 more months of time with us. I was blessed to have the opportunity to physically be with my parents through this time, along with my brothers and sisters. What I learned through the many doctors appointments, chemo treatments, home time, and final care palliative time, was the importance of being connected and the many ways we do connect as humans. Sometimes this took the form of sitting on the floor of her bedroom while she slept and woke for short periods of time. It meant packing special snacks to take to the hospital and a few extra so she could share with others around her. Gradually, it consisted of making sure one of us was always with her during her hospital stays so that after she used the washroom, she had someone to tuck in the covers around her so that she was snug and warm. Finally, it meant taking turns lying beside her in bed with our cheeks barely touching her hair and having a hand on her back so she could feel us by her side. Friends and family made her favourite foods, called, prayed and came to be present in whatever way that was. In a time which was very isolating for my mom and ourselves, we knew we were not alone. Mom’s funeral was the last day public gatherings were allowed.
It has now been almost 3 months since we have all had to rejig our sense of community and how we connect with each other physically and socially. It has to do with the emotional energy and support we get from each other. As we grow from infants, to children, to adults, there are many goals that we are taught define success. Having a certain job, education, home, looking a certain way or things. While important in their own way, being with my mom this past year taught me that at our very core, we as humans need and crave the feeling we get from knowing we are connected to other human beings. At this time, what are, and what can we do to maintain and enhance this necessity of life?
As a community it can begin with smiling through our masks at each other. Did you know you can tell a person is smiling from their eyes crinkling and making contact? My friend Nadine taught me many years ago about “paying it forward,” like going through a drive-through window, asking the cashier how much the order of the person behind you is for and then paying for it with your order. By the time you get yours and drive away, they have a surprise treat at no cost and the cashier gets the fun of saying their order was already taken care of :)
For our families and friends, make time to actually call on a telephone and speak directly to people. Make or take some of your extra baking and pass or a tea-time treat to your neighbors. Call or drive by someone you know who lives by themselves, leave a comment on their social media every single time they post. Send a photo or video message on messenger. Anything to make a two way connection.
Pay attention especially to people we know who communicate differently or appear to not have much to say. Leaving a voicemail they can hear back, making time to have a one-sided conversation and dropping a fun package at their door for them to find are all ways to connect.
Reducing social isolation is crucial for our emotional and physical well-being. Now is the time to find and try ways to reach out and create new connections directly and are “other centered.” In the end, it's all that matters!