A Grandmother’s Challenge: 10 Smiles in the Steel City

Jul 03, 2024

This past weekend, we visited my 88-year-old Mother, Ellie, who continues to live by herself. She is still able to drive, but very often chooses not to do so. She spends a lot of time by herself at home these days.

She watches TV, writes cards, and according to her, does as much or as little as she wants to do each day, often saying "Isn't that nice!"

She is comfortable, safe and often lets us know she is very content staying in her own home.  We know the days are long and it's quiet. She would enjoy participating in group activities and spending more time with people, but her new normal is to resist.  

She often says "no", when years ago she would typically say "yes". 

When we called and told her about our visit and plans,  she expressed appreciation with an underlying resistance & hesitancy, while directly and indirectly saying "NO".    

She finds simple pleasure in going to the grocery store, pharmacy, & bank, enjoying talking with the people who have known her for many years.

She loves to share stories and talk with people.  She is charming and friendly and loves to make others happy.  Staying connected is a priority, she talks on the phone & sends her handmade cards for every holiday.

As much as we would love to visit more often, everyone is busy working. Her grandkids have all graduated college, some are married and have moved to new cities. Her neighbors are friendly but don't often visit. 

This trip was initiated with my son Max’s encouragement, he encouraged us to plan a spontaneous trip to Pittsburgh.  His goal was to help organize a few things, set up her new iPad so she could stay connected with relatives, and take her for an “outing”. 

When we called earlier in the week with our idea for the visit, her reaction was,

“I’d love to see you, but it's so hot, you don’t have to make the trip....I would love to see you, but my legs aren’t working so well. If you decide to come, you'll go out and have fun exploring, but I will just stay home.”  

As the kids were growing up, she would always encourage visits.  Hosting many holidays and always looking forward to our many adventures while visiting her. Her Father was a big influence. He loved to engage with people, travel, and live for experiences.  After her Father retired, he became a golf caddy, up to the age of 88.  He enjoyed talking with everyone and would strike up a conversation as many times as he could.

Max did not take his Grandmother's resistance to heart.

He simply said, “Grandma, we want to do something fun with you, not without you.” 

This is all the convincing she needed.

We drove her to one of our favorite places, filled with stores, restaurants & lots of people. As we gathered her into a wheelchair, to make mobility easier for her, she TOTALLY SURPRISED ME.

She became very energized, SAYING HELLO TO EVERYONE.  Mind you, this was even before she was seated and even before we left the parking spot. 

“What a beautiful day.”  

“I love your hat.”  

“Your dog is adorable.”  

“My grandson came up to visit me.”  

It was as though a switch of awareness, confidence, and excitement had just been turned on.   

Spontaneously, she then announced to us, “My goal today is to make 10 people smile.”  1 hour earlier, she was refusing to go.

Why this matters and how you can help: 

  1. You can make a difference:

*According to a Harvard Study, “36% of Americans felt ‘serious loneliness’ in 2021”.  My mother needed this interaction and many of the people she made smile may have also needed a boost of happiness.  Try simply saying “hello” to strangers. 

  1. You can create a community:

*The sense of community is critically important to us as human beings but is diminishing with the onset of new technologies that may cause separation.  Think about “front porch living” in the 1960-1970s, in which neighbors sat outside (often cooler than inside) and how there has been a move (1980’s+)  to “inside living” where technology, TV, and air conditioning exists.  By using Ellie’s example, she was helping to create community through every interaction she made.  She was encouraging conversation, creating connections, and forming a micro community. 

  1. You will experience greater happiness by “doing”:

*Making people smile, showing kindness, and being considerate all contribute to boosting the “giver’s happiness”.  It lowers stress and increases oxytocin (feel-good hormone).   In addition, studies show that not only does the action create a good feeling for the giver, simply remembering the “doing” afterwards also continues to help. 

In a few weeks, I am presenting at THE KINDNESS CONFERENCE, hosted by ALG Vacations, and will share stories and studies like this to encourage everyone to remember to “do” kindness.   I am so proud to be partnering with an organization that sees the importance of spreading this message.  Thank you ALG Vacations for all that you do to make this globe a better place for all of us. 

What KINDNESS commitment can you make today:  “I will do my best to…” 

  • Say hello
  • Open a door
  • Hand out flowers
  • Buy a dessert
  • Give a gratitude stone
  • Call a friend
  • Write a note
  • Send a postcard
  • Include someone
  • Stay in touch
  • Connect two of your friends

As we approach the Holiday weekend, do what most people don't and connect with as many people as possible. Make someone smile or laugh. Notice how you make them feel and notice how you feel too!

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