I Created ‘Call Your Elders Day’ to Lift Up My Loved Ones
The voice on the other end of the phone is creaky, and the words are slow. But the warmth and gratitude are such a comfort, despite the distance between us. This year, I decided to make intentional, regular time to catch up with older relatives and family friends. I call it Call Your Elders Day, and it has become such a balm to my spirit. If you’ve got loved ones you’re far away from, I highly recommend it for both you and for them.
The longer the pandemic goes on, the more homesick I feel. I was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago, approximately 2,680 miles away from Chicago. Video chatting has helped to fill the void somewhat, allowing me to at least see my parents and siblings on a regular basis. But there is so much more to island life that I yearn for and cannot fulfill here. I come from a big family that hosted regular social gatherings. Around the holidays it hit me. I was looking through old photos of good times at home, and I realized there were far too many people who had passed away. I started looking through photos of my extended auntie squad back home, and I realized a common denominator among the ones who are still here.
Most of my beloved older relatives or family friends are women over the age of 75, barely knew how to use their smartphones, and aren’t updating a captive audience of followers on their day-to-day activities. Without regular updates from apps, it had become too easy to set these folks off to the side of my mind, to just casually tell my parents to pass along my regards. There are no social media posts from my Auntie Shirley or Auntie Joyce. If I want to know what’s really going on with them, I must pick up the phone and call.
The idea for Call Your Elders Day started with a tweet and has become a weekly practice. The idea isn’t tied to a particular time frame, it can be weekly, fortnightly, monthly. But the main intention is consistency, and I want to pass this concept along to others, because I think it’s important. So far, Call Your Elders Day is going well. I’ve made calls to eight elders, with plans for more to come. Within the last month, I’ve talked to blood relatives and family friends who have known me since childhood. I’ve been learning all kinds of life lessons about the women I’ve looked up to and respected as my aunties. Here are some of the main takeaways I’ve gained from these conversations with my elders.
Covid is affecting their lives in ways we don’t understand. While so many of us might be fatigued with Zoom meetings or worn down by online school or work obligations, our elders are more likely to be lonely, isolated, and bored. Auntie Joyce misses her regular trips to the hair salon. Auntie Gemma has learned how to use Zoom, but she misses the camaraderie of her IRL Jehovah’s Witness meetings. For many of my older loved ones, days can pass by without much to do. Without hobbies to pass the time and their usual meetings and appointments disrupted, their world can feel smaller than before. A regular call means more than you might think.
So much of this outreach is about receiving, listening, being present, and soothing.
The elders have lessons to share. My auntie tribe can boast of lives well lived with a treasure chest full of advice, and it has been such a blessing to tap into that recently. Just asking a few questions about their past, what they did for a living or for fun, what they remember, what they wish they knew, can unleash a wellspring of valuable perspective.
Be patient. There may be technical issues. If your loved one isn’t especially smartphone savvy, figuring things out can be challenging. My closest aunties — my mom’s sisters — don’t quite get how to swipe. Sometimes we have success and connect on WhatsApp without repeated efforts. Other times, not so much. This week, I realized how much it means to them to be surprised by an old school call on their home phone instead of making them get anxious while trying to figure out how to answer an overseas call from a random app. My goal is to meet them where they are so there is zero stress.
It’s well worth the time and effort. Some of the phone calls have been no more than five minutes. Others have gone for as long as an hour. A few have ended in giggles, and most recently, one ended in cathartic tears on either end of the phone. Others have ended with heartfelt prayer. All of them have ended with love, appreciation, and warmth that radiates and lingers with me for days after the fact. No matter how long the call takes, it’s worth it.
I may not call my elders every single week, but my plan is to be more intentional, more consistent, and tuned in not just when it’s Christmas or their birthday or New Year’s. I have a rich resource I’ve been overlooking, a team that roots for me, a tribe to celebrate. Maybe you do, too. We can pray and pay homage to the ones above, but let’s also give our respect and acknowledgment to the ancestors who are still here. Let’s love on them. Let’s lift them up, listen to them, and give them their flowers while we can.