Updated: Jan 15
It was Saturday morning and I’d started the long drive from Lake Mac to Shepparton (Victoria), with my uncle and my mum. We were on the way to my Uncle Bob’s 90th birthday party.
When we first discussed doing this drive, I remember feeling anxious and very “I can’t be bothered”- but I knew it was important to my mum. “Besides”, I thought, “I can get lots of work done over the weekend while I’m child-free.”
Driving along, I listened to mum and her brother telling stories from their childhood. During those 10 hours, I was blessed with hearing the rich history of my maternal family. Arriving in Shepparton, we were welcomed by my beautiful aunty and some cousins that I haven’t seen for over two decades.
The following morning, my mum woke up, grumbling about my aunty “lying” about our motel not serving breakfast, just so we would have to go to her house to eat. I suggested to my mum that perhaps my aunty wanted to have as many meals as possible with her siblings – after all, how many more breakfasts might they have together? With those words, my mum’s demeanour changed, and we happily went off for breakfast with the family.
Having decided that I’d spend that Sunday morning working, breakfast changed that for me too. Reconnecting with family was so much more important. I started drawing the family tree and writing down the stories I was hearing. That afternoon, 120 people got together to celebrate 90 years of a strong, wonderful man, who had only retired from shearing at the age of 80!
The 10-hour drive home was filled with the warmth of the love from those beautiful connections. My experience of the world seemed brighter, I appreciated the beauty of my surroundings, creative ideas were bursting, and I felt huge love for my world and the people in it.
This year, instead of setting a whole lot of New Year’s resolutions that were destined for failure, I chose, instead, a focus word for the year. That word is CONNECTION.
Connection with myself, my family, my old and new friends. At the end of last year, I had realised that my world had become very small. Having two family members who prefer to “hermit” rather than socialise, I had found it easier to join them.
And I felt lonely.
Despite the people I love being around me, I felt lonely. I needed connections like I had BC (Before Children) – a wide net of friends who loved me for me, where I was free from censorship, who I could trust wholeheartedly, and where I laughed until I cried.
And this year, what I’ve realised is, finding or maintaining those connections can be hard – especially when “life” gets in the way.
A recent Lifeline article spoke of the “life-saving importance of caring, real-world relationships”, while Russell Brand referred to the importance of connection, saying: “Enduring friendships help you endure as an individual.”
The Australian Loneliness Report, produced by the Australian Psychological Society and Swinburne University (2018), found that 1 in 4 Australian adults are lonely. Higher levels of loneliness are associated with:
Higher levels of social interaction anxiety
Less social interaction
Less enjoyment of relationships
Less able to cope with problems
Fewer positive emotions
More likelihood of feeling a burden, worthless and less confident
Lower levels of contentment, happiness, enthusiasm and pleasure
Many of us will experience loneliness, which the Report defines as a “personal feeling of social isolation…where an innate need to belong to a group is not met.” The double-edged sword is that when a person is experiencing the above associated feelings, they are less able seek out positive human interaction.
Something we as a community can do is to notice and reach out to those people who are struggling for connection, whether it’s family, friends or strangers. We can remove judgement, know that people are doing their best, that we cannot always know, or understand what they are going through and to meet them with positivity and care just as they are.
I recall during my hardest (and self-imposed lonely) times, I had friends who never, ever gave up. The texts, phone calls and invitations continued and, when I felt able, I would gratefully accept these offers.
A statistic I read recently, which broke my heart, is that 40% of residents in aged care facilities NEVER receive a visitor. So here’s a suggestion, if you don’t have family around – adopt a grandparent! There is so much love to be shared, so many stories to be told and it is never too late to connect.
Human connection supports physical and emotional wellness – what will you do to help yourself and others to thrive?