This week, I joined my stepmother in Tucson to deliver Mobile Meals to the disabled and elderly. For many of these people we are the only social interaction that they will have for the day. Other than the Mobile Meals driver, some of our clients will have little to no interaction with the outside world. Imagine no hugs, handshakes, asana adjustments or physical contact of any kind. The weight of loneliness and isolation, being alone and sick, is hard to grasp for a healthy yoga mommy surrounded by people and blessed with lots of family and friends all over the world. I hug people daily, students, friends, and my daughter.
Our first stop was an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s. She was very delicate, sitting on the edge of her couch with her constant companion, a television set on high volume, captivating her blank gaze. She stared lost for a moment as she stared at me, some stranger. I greeted her and was touched by her simple lift of a hand and sweet, demure smile. No one wants to imagine their parents as they get older so this was a major reality check for me. This woman was someone’s mother and here she was sitting alone, by herself.
The next stop was an extremely overweight diabetic woman. Her skin was scaly and purple throughout, but her smile was electric and she still had fire in her eyes and a hearty laugh. We were it for the day in the human interaction department, so we invested extra time in conversation. No kids were coming by for the holidays. She wanted to show us her art that she created on her computer. Behind the art image on her computer screen, I caught a glimpse of her Facebook profile. It broke my heart. The image was taken at least twenty or thirty years earlier, when she was young, beautiful and vibrant. Her only projection out to the world was of a bygone era. By the fourth stop, and seeing how people live when they are alone and elderly, made me want to get on my knees in gratitude to God for my family and for my health.
They shared their stories with me and although I saw plastered on walls pictures of family, grown up kids, grandchildren, even great grandchildren, what I didn’t hear was that any of them had a seat at their kids’ tables or any family visits planned. It was very hard to see what life is like once one’s children have moved on and become so busy or overwhelmed with life that all they can muster is the occasion drop-by or :10 call. My grandmother lived to 92 with daily breakfast and coffee with her son and daughter-in-law and a constant current of visitors flocking her bedside and snooping about her kitchen.
There were highlights from my day delivering too. An observation I made was that all of our Mobile Meals friends had in common in spite of health or life circumstances was extreme gratitude for us being there and for the food we were serving.
Our meals were simple, prepared by Carondelet hospital, and frankly nothing I would eat if given a choice. They received our meals with smiles, excitement and thankfulness. All of them took time to get up and welcome us.
My favorites were the sweet school teachers from West Virginia who offered US food when we came by- homemade buttered biscuits- DELICIOUS! Unlike the others, their home was clean and full of family pictures. People still came around to see them so they took pride to keep their place presentable. The difference was their stories revolved around their family still being active and a part of their lives. The connection to family seemed to be the difference in their quality of life and their outcome. They actually had something, someone, to stay alive for. Not just to live for, but to be alive.
The teachers, in their nineties, still got showered and dressed for the day. The wife got her makeup and hair done in a fresh auburn hue. Their family was always around and they still traveled, with over 35 cross country drives under their belt. The husband had a severe stroke and the wife was fine for the most part, but had a swollen ankle and complained about not wanting to get old and sedentary. I looked at it and made some recommendations.
Naturally, then we talked shop: yoga.
She was open to learning and we talked about some techniques she could do lying down, sitting up in a chair and leaning against a wall. These are extremely simple movements that could maintain her quality of life. I was able to explain what happens in the bones, connective tissue, and now I am working with her next week on some of my recommendations. Yoga is a good way for me to reach out to others, to give something that has value. Not just asanas or breathing, but connecting and inspiring people to live happy and abundant lives.
As we left their home, we had one final delivery. This delivery went to the man that used to deliver Mobile Meals to the teachers up until a few years ago. Due to our socializing, we were running about thirty minutes late. No sooner than our tapping at the door, did the frail old man swing the door open, obviously waiting eagerly for our arrival. He stood about 5’4” wore glasses, and leaned against the counter with his cane propped against the wall. He told me two fascinating things: 1) He delivered mobile meals for almost thirty years and just stopped two years ago, and 2) In March, he will turn 101. This smooth skinned man was still of sound mind, witty, lives without an assistant or a caregiver. He just lives and spends his time volunteering in other ways and seeing his family. We both marveled when we got back in the car. He didn’t even have a handicap sign on his car and at age 99 was doing the exact same task we were.
My stepmother wondered what his secret was and as I glanced over his profile saw two very telling things. Under dietary requirements, he wrote: no animal products & no fried foods.
As I share this long holiday weekend with my family, it will be about simple gratitude on many levels: the fact that we can be together at the table, sharing stories, laughing. I am grateful to see my uncle Joel, who recently suffered from a stroke and is steadily regaining his physical strength as he recovers.
We are Mexican, so as you can imagine, the babies keep coming and there are many little ones to crawl over each other, fight over toys, and play.
I am glad to see my mother interact with her best friend, my stepmother, and to spend time with my sister and her family, just as I said goodbye to my brother and his family as we departed Texas last week. I wish you all many blessings this Thanksgiving, remembering the things that keep us alive, living and joyful: companionship, family, and the sharing of meals with those we love.
Most communities offer food banking services or if you want more direct interaction with the people whose lives you are impacting, Meals on Wheels, Mobile Meals and other related services are always looking for donations and volunteers. Happy Thanksgiving!