Q: I know many people are having regular holiday gatherings because they are vaccinated and feel safe now. But my neighbor has disabilities and told me she doesn’t feel safe gathering in a large group, so she is staying home alone. How can I support her, so she does not feel so lonely?
A: People with certain medical conditions, weakened immune systems or frailties may still be at risk for serious illness from COVID-19 even if vaccinated. However, even if someone does not have underlining conditions, they may still not feel safe gathering in large groups yet, and that is okay. Feeling comfortable at large gatherings is a transition that will take time for some. Everyone’s feelings should be respected and valued.
In fact, the general recommendations are to keep gatherings small and outdoors, or indoors with proper mask wearing. Precautions are still needed to ensure a safe holiday gathering.
In terms of how you can support your neighbor, I will start by mentioning that just because someone is alone does not necessarily mean they feel lonely. You may want to check in with your neighbor and ask how they are feeling about not spending the holidays with other people. Some people who attend gatherings still feel lonely despite being in a room with others. Others who choose to stay physically alone at home may still feel connected to others and content.
You can reach out to your neighbor and ask how to best support them. Would they enjoy an outdoor and socially distanced visit? Or perhaps you can both agree to watch the same television show or read the same book so that you have something to discuss. Finding a way to create a connection is a great way to reduce the feeling of isolation. You are showing that you are in this with her.
You may want to ask if there is a way you can help your neighbor connect with other family and friends. See if they have capabilities to use Zoom, and if they are not familiar you can offer assistance in setting it up for them to video chat with family.
Consider dropping off a treat or a nice note to brighten their day. This is the season to check on friends and neighbors and do our part to help everyone feel thought about and appreciated.
Be mindful to show caring without over-stepping. You want your neighbor to feel cared about but not pitied. Ask them what they want and follow their lead. Always remember that what may feel right to you may not feel right to them.
The holiday season can feel lonely when the traditions and celebrations are not the same as they used to be. It may be because loved ones have passed on, moved away, or the younger generation has new ideas on how to spend the holiday.
Your neighbor may appreciate hearing how you are feeling this holiday season, as well. Sharing your own feelings is a good way to connect and find a common ground to bond over. Ultimately, we all have more similarities than we may realize at first. Sharing with each other your honest feelings may benefit you both and create a social connection that goes beyond a friendly neighbor.
Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org