The COVID-19 pandemic has altered life as we know it. With an order from our government, and what feels like the wave of a magic wand, Americans have been instructed to self-isolate and social-distance themselves for our own protection, as well as for the protection of those we would come into contact with. Millions of people have been put out of work, families separated, and now we rely on virtual platforms like Zoom and FaceTime as a form of recreating that social connection we crave as humans. But even for the most introverted and loner-type folks, none of us were ever made to feel — or be — this alone.
I feel fortunate right now. Living with a family of six and having four small kids who are still little enough to keep me on my toes, I don’t have the opportunity to feel lonely or bored. When I see friends and family posting online about how they wish they had something to do during their time in social isolation, I can’t say that I’ve been in a position to relate. Still, that doesn’t make their feelings any less valid … especially for people who live by themselves.
My next door neighbor is one such person. In his one-bedroom, off-white home sitting on the corner of the street, he tends to keep to himself and lives alone. Back when life was “normal,” our interactions with one another were inconsistent, usually no more than a hello or some small talk when we saw each other outside. But this week, something was different. When he heard my back door squeak open as I stepped onto our cement back porch, he let go of his door handle and turned to face me instead of walking into his home in the way it looked like he intended to.
The morning air was frigid. I was still wiping the sleep from my eyes with the sleeves of my robe. And to be really honest, I wasn’t in a chipper or chatty mood. But there was something about his tone and the vacant expression on his face that made me wonder if he might be feeling lonely.
He spoke of how he had nothing to do after being laid off of work. After all, there was only so much cleaning one person who lives all alone could do. He worried about his sudden loss of income. He vented about the folks disregarding the guidelines of social distancing, telling me just how badly he wanted this all to end so he could rejoin the “real” world. Toward the end of the conversation, he even offered up some freshly-caught fish that he had frozen just a few days prior.
I talked very little, but I listened a lot. And though our discussion only lasted all of ten minutes or less, somehow, I’ve thought of his words every day since.
I wonder what it must be like to live alone right now. How isolating self-quarantine must be for some, and what friends and neighbors can do to help them feel included. Because, just like a person needs food and water to survive, humans also need connection with other humans.
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a pyramid displaying the order of human needs, just below a person’s need for personal safety, there falls a humanistic need for love and a sense of belonging. Without it, our mental and physical health suffers, and, simply put, we are bound to feel so damn lonely.
We don’t know when this time of social distancing will come to an end. Even for me, I continue to find my need to leave this house and interact with my friends increasing with each day … and this is coming from a mother who is surrounded by little people who keep me busy 24/7. So I can only imagine how painful this time must be for the people who are living out their days in complete isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic right now.
Where these folks would normally fill their need for platonic intimacy with co-workers, or perhaps on a Friday night spent out with friends, those options have now been taken from them. These mundane and regular interactions, the ones we’ve all taken for granted up until this defining moment in our world’s history, were what fed many people’s need for human interaction. And now that they’re gone, it’s only natural that these individuals would have some really big feelings about it.
So, though we might feel like it’s none of our business or we don’t want to get involved, we need to take it upon ourselves to check in on these people who live alone. We may have to keep a distance of six feet from one another, but there are plenty of other ways that we can make them feel included.
This week, my kids and I are going to make some homemade cards to put inside of my neighbor’s mailbox in hopes that he realizes he is still being thought of. My husband is going to make a point of sparking up a conversation with him between our fence whenever he sees him outside and nearby. And who knows … we might just bake him a pie and leave it on his porch while it’s still warm (by “we” I mean my husband, the pie-maker — not me, the burner-of-all-foods).
These are the small things my family is planning to do to help our neighbor through this season. These little acts of kindness are what the lonely people of this world need the most during this time.
This is especially important if you are living next to an elderly or immunocompromised person who lives alone. Find a way to make a connection with them while still practicing social distancing. Not just so they don’t feel lonely, but for their physical safety too. I’ve seen some incredible people handing the elderly in their community three pieces of construction paper (one green, one yellow, and one red) as a way for them to safely communicate their needs with others. By putting up the green paper in a window, it means they are doing well and do not need anything. The yellow means they are running low on something or could use some connection from a neighbor. And the red paper is for emergencies only, meaning that person needs outside help ASAP.
All of us feel powerless in our situations right now. If nothing else, that is one thing we all have in common. So let’s use that. Let’s build connections from the shared experience of our global situation. Though you may not know what it’s like to feel boredom or true isolation throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there are so many out there who do.
Our neighbors and friends who live alone need us right now more than ever. And by using a little creativity, daring to think outside of the box too, there are safe ways to make them feel included while showing that we truly care.
For just a few minutes out of your day, you have the opportunity to make someone else feel a little less lonely … something everyone in this world needs right now.
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