That old-fashioned postal mail letter from a distant someone who knows us well -- little did we know how much that exchange did for a person’s sense of social connectivity -- until it was gone.
The current senior citizens and elders are the last of the generations who widely used this tangible exchange. And though many seniors and even elders absolutely embrace e-mail and mobile phones, they don’t replace the satisfaction of the tangible, personalized physical letter written just for them..
As a group activity, friends can gather to write to soldiers, the incarcerated, for favorite causes, for the purpose of helping senior citizens in need, and other people in fragile circumstances.
But consider finding an older loved one of your own, even if you gather with others in group to do so, and making a commitment to write (typed out and printed) a heartfelt letter just to them on real stationary on a regular basis. Realize how much they’ll come to look forward to this, so be careful not to be casual about it -- sending out a letter or two during initial excitement about the idea, then dropping off without notice.
Here are some of the joys a regular letter arrival can offer those in elder social isolation situations or even for just adding to life's joy for senior citizens who aren't as isolated.
- They remind seniors and elders of “home” and of their happier pasts when society was better at delayed gratification, enjoyed the anticipation stage with patience, with the final reward of finding that pretty envelope in the mailbox of otherwise junk mail or bills. They would get letters from distant extended family, penpals whom they had never met but got to know via the magic of written letters, childhood friends who had moved away, their traveling older brothers, and otherwise people who were writing only to and for them. People they received letters from commented on their last letter and asked them questions about their lives and their pasts.
- They are tangible: Meaning they are touchable and can be saved in a special box for letters. As the box fills, so does the senior’s heart.
- They are a solid, physical reminder of being connected to something else “out there” even if for health or personality reasons they need to stay inside and away from society more than they did in their youth. Some recipients keep their latest letter out on their kitchen table for days. Just glancing at it helps them feel connected.
- They work wonders for those who recharge best as introverts, but still want to connect, and aren’t fond of online social media. I’ve known healthy elder citizens who simply didn’t thrive in enforced game days at assisted living facilities. They wanted a deeper one-on-one connection that deepens over time with fewer people, rather than shallower connections in higher numbers.
- Even the postal mailed generic Christmas letters or preprinted cards people still send out are impersonal now. They tend to be a summary of the sender's past year -- the same generic letter sent to everyone, or a photo card of the family with, at most, a signature at the bottom -- the same photo card that everyone else got with nothing unique and personal written to the receivers. Yet there is nothing more cherished than a thoughtful piece of writing written especially for, and only for, that recipient.
Physically mailed one-on-one personalized letters don’t solve all issues of isolation, but they can fill a certain hole in the heart that institutionalized social activities and online communication can’t. So, whether you gather with others to write letters or just plan to do it on your own, consider socially isolated seniors and elders as your recipients.