“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” — George Berkely
I didn’t see it coming.
My friend, Cori called to tell me about a woman she had been trying to help. I listened as best I could. And then she really caught my attention.
Lonely and broken
“I’ve been sharing your poetry with Karen. She’s been homebound for quite a while and depressed, so I thought it might lift her spirits.”
Karen would ask me each day, “Would you share another poem from your friend, Anne?”
Listening to Cori’s words, I felt warm inside. Glad this woman found comfort in my words. But I could tell Cori was weighted down by this women’s story.
“Anne, a couple nights ago, while reading, Karen asked me if I could read slower. Without a computer, her only contact with people was the telephone. She recently lost her roommate to cancer. She asked me if I could find a pastor who would come and visit her. So I tried.”
I felt for this woman I didn’t know. Surely Cori would be able to find someone. She said she had called 32 churches. Sharing Karen’s story with each one, she hoped to get a response. Some had told her,
“Just have her go to our website.”
“32 churches?” I asked.
“Yes,” Cori continued. “And I told them it didn’t have to be the pastor who went. But if they were leery about going to a stranger’s house, maybe a couple of women could go together.”
I pictured this woman needing help. Something easy to picture because of my own cousin, Pattie. I thought back to the phone call years ago from my brother, George.
“Anne, Pattie needs her social security paperwork and she can’t find it. I went over to help and I was shocked by what I saw.”
George had my full attention.
“There were piles of stuff everywhere, things piled up four feet. In fact, you could only walk from room to room through a tiny path. I had no idea she was living like that.”
I felt sick to my stomach as I listened. This was Pattie. The person who meant so much to us. Why didn’t she tell us?
It was Pattie who got me and my sister our first Barbie dolls. Pattie, who taught us how to do the “ twist.” And Pattie, who bought my first electric shaver. She heard my embarassment about the little hairs growing on my legs.
And the day we buried our mom, Dad had left us alone as he went to his sister’s house. Pattie came right over and walked us around the block letting us talk and cry. Her heart was broken too because she loved our mom so much.
I would have done anything for Pattie.
A labor of love
When I walked into her condo, I stood there, overwhelmed. The piles of stuff everywhere, the darkness, the odors. How would I ever get it done?
I knew my brother would not be able to help because of his back, so my daughter and I made the hour-long trip to Pattie’s condo, and we started the huge task. It was obvious Pattie could not live on her own. Not anymore.
Pattie had lost her mom to suicide. Her dad had died years later, the day before he was to retire. Pattie became depressed. Then losing her job deepened her feelings of sadness. I just wish she would have told us.
She turned to things to give her a sense of comfort. Things don’t have feelings, and more importantly, things don’t die on you.
I looked around at all her stuff. The very things she once loved were the ones that were now suffocating her.
Week after week, Jessie and I would go to Pattie’s condo and work for hours. Sometimes we carried as many as 10 black garbage bags out to the dumpster.
And then I found the needed paperwork. I was so glad, but I knew we were far from being done.
One day while visiting Pattie at the nursing home she said,
“I hope you didn’t throw out any of my matchbooks. I collect those.”
I let the comment go in one ear and out the other. And I treated her things with respect because I respected her.
I found cards with money inside, unopened mail. I found bags of groceries she had brought in the house and just left sitting there. There were boxes and boxes of unopened treasures from the home shopping network.
It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. The garbage that was everywhere, the smell from the fridge. I just powered through. And why? Because I loved her.
I actually discovered a whole dining room set under all the piles of stuff.
Yes, Karen sounded a lot like our Pattie, who we lost to cancer less than a year after we finished her condo. Both women were lonely and broken.
Once again Cori continued, “Anne, I got a call from the woman who lives Karen’s building. She helps her out by taking out Karen’s trash.”
And then Cori got quiet, “Anne, Karen attempted suicide.”
I sat there stunned. Was she serious?
The woman, who found Karen asked Cori, “Do you know an Anne Peterson? On her wall, was a handwritten poem tacked up with Anne Peterson’s name on it.”
So that’s why Cori was asked to slow down.
A dark cloud hung over us. I was filled with an unexplainable sadness for this woman I had never met, and was just getting to hear about.
Cori called again the next day.
“Anne, I found out which poem it was. Karen told me she loved wings. She thought of them as angel wings.”
I hurt for how Karen must have felt, having lost her friend, her own health and hope.
Cori said, “Maybe I could have done more.”
“You tried, Cori,” I assured her. “You called all those churches. You tried.”
God answered Karen’s prayers. The day the woman stopped by Karen’s house was not her normal day to stop in. It was God who prompted her to go, which ultimately saved her life.
God says he’s near the broken hearted. This certainly was proof he is.
And then Cori called excited. “I talked to Karen after she got out of ICU. And guess what? Remember those churches I called, Anne, and nobody responded? One of them contacted me and went and visited her.”
One thing that struck me was how God uses others to reach out to those who call on him. People need to be aware of this.
Ways to Reach out to the Lonely
A phone call
In this technological age, people mistakenly presume everyone is connected to the computer. This is not true. Phone calls convey what text messages cannot.
Visits don’t have to be long, just a few minutes can bring hope to those who are alone.
Bringing even a sandwich can lift the spirits of those who are unable to do things for themselves.
People who are homebound don’t get out to see the world around them. A flower is bringing the world to them.
No one does snail mail any longer. And yet, it’s a way to reach those who do not have a computer.
It doesn’t take long to find out what a person is interested in. A magazine, a book, or something for their wall would mean so much to them.
Offer to do an errand
The smallest job could be monumental to the person with little strength. And yet, if that job were done it would bring so much joy.
Cookies mean love.
Thinking of one of my poems handwritten and tacked on Karen’s wall makes me stop and realize how our words can touch others. Written words, spoken words. We need to choose them carefully.
There are lonely people everywhere. Do you know a Karen or Pattie in your life? Look around, you just may see one.