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Family & Relationships

From Paul's Perspective: A "Hello Club" Update

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At the beginning of the year, I shared my resolution to create a personal “Hello Club” for 2019.

I suggested a few simple rules: pick three-to-five people you know (or know of) who might have reason to feel isolated because of age, disability, or residential circumstances. Call them just to say hello – ask how they’re doing. Calls only, no texts or emails.

It was one small step in tackling an epidemic of chronic loneliness affecting – according to an AARP study – an estimated 47 million people age 45 and older. Indeed, research presented to the American Psychological Association found that loneliness and social isolation may represent an even greater public health hazard than obesity. I encouraged others to start their own “Hello Clubs,” and I promised an update.

                                                                             ***         

My first call was to Ned (not his real name), a former co-worker now 78, retired and living near Chicago. As long-time colleagues at a firm in New York, we’d grown close except on matters of politics, where our views differed significantly. Ned had retired before me, and we’d had only sporadic contact over 10 years. I’d heard he had contracted a serious disease. He answered with his familiar deep “hello,” and it was like old times. We compared family notes, and he explained his rare and incurable respiratory condition. And when the talk veered into politics, he became animated. I let Ned vent until I heard him taking scoops of oxygen.

“I didn’t call to get you all riled up,” I said. 

“It’s okay, it’s good for me,” he said. “And it means a lot that you called.”

                                                                              ***

When I dialed the next name on my list, someone else answered. It wasn’t Jim, another former colleague long retired in Florida, but Andy, Jim’s long-time companion. It turned out that Jim, now 85, had just returned from the hospital after suffering a severe chest infection. He was sleeping. Andy’s talkativeness was surprising; while Jim was the exuberant, outgoing one, always remembering friends’ birthdays, anniversaries, and other milestones, Andy typically stayed far in the background. Now, he said, he was exhausted from caregiving. We talked through some strategies for getting help – including not being afraid to ask for it.

It was the longest conversation we’d ever had.

“Give Jim my love and tell him I’ll call back soon,” I said.

“Thanks, Paul,” he said. “I’m sorry he wasn’t awake – but I sure appreciated our chat.”

                                                                          ***

Marjorie returned my call one day later. She lives in a small town in central Pennsylvania and enjoys the frequent company of her daughter, two grandchildren, and family friends who live nearby. But at 95 – the widow of one of my former bosses – she clearly appreciates getting updates on the people with whom we shared so many experiences. 

This time, the information was sad. A popular, long-time executive had died of cancer at 77. 

“He was such a gentleman,” Margie said. “John liked him. He was always attentive to the families, not just the employees.”  

We reminisced about him and his family for a few minutes. She asked if I could get his widow’s home address; Margie has always been fastidious about sending hand-written notes on milestone occasions.  

We reiterated our commitment to making plans to get together in person one day soon. We’d made the same promise to each other several times over the years. This time, I vowed to myself, I’m going to make it happen.

                                                                          ***

Three calls – each meaningful, each interesting, each a good reminder of the importance of connection.

Ready to reach out with your own “Hello Club”? Check out these 6 simple guidelines:

  1. Think about people who might benefit from a friendly voice.
  2. Make a short list and decide how often you’re going to reach out.
  3. Note the calls on your calendar; if you use a smartphone or computer, take advantage of automatic reminders.
  4. Don’t worry about schedules, if the timing isn’t right – try again another day.
  5. No emails or texts.
  6. Pay it forward – tell others about your own “Hello Club.” Who knows, you just might get a call yourself.   

Photo credit: Elke Young                               

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