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Let's all find another mother

I have a vision that someday I will round up women in their 80s and 90s who are living alone in small houses, apartments and manufactured homes, with little or any connection to friends or family, and invite them to our home for lunch.

There are so many of them it may end up being several lunches. I will serve an airy quiche and colorful little fruit cups. There will be a dessert, of course. I will encourage them to relax and feel safe and get to know one another, tell their stories and exchange telephone numbers. 

I will drive to pick them up because they usually have no transportation unless someone offers it. I can do that. Maybe I can engage my age peers, women in their 60s and 70s, to help me. Or maybe they can host their own lunches. I envision doing it regularly, serving up social connection and a tenderly listening ear. It wouldn’t have to be lunch, it could be an afternoon tea with homemade macaroons or angel cake and berries. Make those strawberries with a dab of real whipped cream. 

Launching the idea on Mother’s Day weekend seems fitting, don’t you think?

Recent research published in the British Medical Journal’s publication “Heart” aggregated 23 studies done in Europe, Japan, Australia and the United States and found loneliness and social isolation have unanticipated and debilitating impacts on health and well-being, increasing the likelihood of heart disease and stroke by 50 percent. Researchers recognized loneliness as “toxic.” The studies looked at women (and men) who had limited social networks or supports, infrequent or poor-quality social contact and frequent feelings of isolation. The findings were so powerful that one headline refers to loneliness as “the new smoking.”

I have written about this before. Sometimes columns I write generate lots of feedback. I hear things such as, “I sent your last column to my sister in Alaska” or “Your topic last week was a real call to action for me.” But when I write about the health crisis presented by lonely and neglected elders, I cannot seem to create much of a buzz.

So I am trying a new approach. I will attempt to leverage your existing Mother’s Day sentiments. And I will do it now.

Let’s start like this. We all had mothers. If yours is no longer with you, find another mother. Identify an elderly person who needs a ride, a few strawberries or a friendly chat. It should not take you long, they are everywhere. In our community there are more than 7,000 women over age 65 living alone — so many aging women (and men) abandoned by relatives and friends.

If your mother is still with you, cherish her mightily, and if she lives nearby, ask her to co-host the type of get-together I am proposing. Do it in the next few weeks. Intermingle the generations. If your mother lives at a distance, when you call her today, tell her about this idea. Engage her in thinking it through with you. Engage your daughters and their friends too.

After all, the only thing we all have in common is that we are getting older. Let’s not do it alone.

Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@agefriendlyinnovators.org.