From Independence to Interdependence: Counting on the Kindness of Others

woman in wheelchair hugging daughter with positive face. Home care concept.

In Counting on Kindness: The Dilemmas of Dependency, author Wendy Lustbader takes a deep dive into the world of older adults who, through illness or disability, are dependent on others for survival. First published in 1991, Counting on Kindness is as relevant today as it was then—perhaps even more so considering the COVID-19 pandemic. As Lustbader shares in the preface, “The chief consequence of dependency is that we are forced to count on the kindness of others.”

As independent as we may think we are, the past 16 months have certainly helped many of us recognize how interdependent and dependent we are on the kindness of others.

What lessons did you learn over the past year? When you needed help, did you feel comfortable asking for it?

For me, a big lesson has been acknowledging the value of seemingly simple acts such as properly washing my hands, wearing a mask, and exercising physical distance. These practices have contributed in part to lowering the rate of infection of not just COVID-19 but the common cold and the flu as well. We are interdependent on the kindness of one another to do our part—to contribute to each other’s health and well-being.

Vaccinations play an important role, too. How exciting to read that King County is one of the first in the nation to reach the 70 percent vaccination rate for people aged 16 and older. Thank you for doing your part!

Out of necessity, we have had to navigate the pandemic landscape in new and often surprising ways. Things we may have taken for granted—public transportation, grocery and other shopping, education, visiting the library, gathering with loved ones—all took a new turn. Some of us were fortunate to have the option to work or learn remotely, shop as well as reserve books online, or have physically distanced and masked or virtual meals with family and friends.

Not everyone has access to technology or feels comfortable using it. Some of us became dependent on the kindness of others to help fill the gaps.

My colleague Harisa, for example, helped her grandmother and her grandmother’s friends register online for COVID-19 vaccination appointments. In my immediate neighborhood, when the toilet paper and hand sanitizer shortage occurred and shopping in person was problematic for many, we put notices in group emails or called older neighbors to offer grocery runs and we happily shared our extra toilet paper and sanitizer. Others sent alerts about meal drop-offs, pharmacy visits, and opportunities to get together for “pandemic happy hour” in a neighbor’s driveway, where we each wore a mask and brought a lawn chair, beverage, and good story to share. This helped take the edge off the isolation of quarantine in a safe, fun, and personal way.

I confess—I thought I was an independent person. I quickly came to recognize how much I needed the support and encouragement of others. I am not always a confident user of technology. My husband, on the other hand, works in tech, and I was fortunate to have his patient guidance and support when shifting from in-person to remote work during quarantine.

Finding a vaccination site with an opening became another challenge. With the help of colleagues and smartphone text alerts, I was able to locate and book appointments for myself and my husband without stress once we qualified.

Grocery shopping was not something I was comfortable doing in person during the height of the pandemic. Fortunately, online ordering and curbside pick-up have become part of my weekly routine. When I did need to shop in person, I was thankful for the “senior hour” options offered by my favorite stores.

A year ago, when it wasn’t clear how long we would be living in a state of quarantine, sanitizer, and masks, my friend Rebecca Crichton, who directs the Northwest Center for Creative Aging, shared the following in a Monthly Musing entitled Interdependence:

When we decide to ask for help, whether from an agency or through personal networks, it doesn’t mean we no longer play a role in our own well-being. Getting the help we need allows us to do what we can without being at risk. It means we have created new networks of connection and relationship. It might well mean we discover creative and other outlets for ourselves when we no longer have to worry about doing the things we no longer can, or want to, do ourselves.”

That’s interdependence—being mutually dependent and creating new networks of connection and relationship.

My hope is that you have found a comfortable way to ask for support when needed and to respond when others reach out for help. But we all struggle at times.

Not sure where to turn when you need help?

You are never alone! We are fortunate to have many organizations in our area that can offer a helping hand:

  • Community Living Connections (Seattle & King County—call toll-free 844-348-5464) can connect you with the right kind of help, when and where you need it. Older people, adults with disabilities, caregivers, family members, and professionals can call to get objective, confidential information about community resources and service options, at no charge.
  • Senior centers like theGreenwood Senior Center and Northshore Senior Center have social workers on staff who are available for consultations and can connect individuals with services and supports. To find the senior center in your area, click here.
  • ElderFriends, part of Full Life Care, is a volunteer-based program that provides companionship, outreach, and advocacy services to isolated older adults throughout Seattle and King County.
  • Friend to Friend America, based in Des Moines, WA, has a similar mission and recruits and trains volunteers in the community to visit older people who are isolated and lonely.
  • AARP Friendly Voices program was started in 2020 to support older people who were lonely due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. You can schedule a call from a trained volunteer for yourself or for a loved one. Request a call by dialing AARP at 1-888-281-0145 for English or 1-888-497-4108 for Spanish.
  • WA Warm Line (toll-free 877-500-9276 (WARM)) is a peer support helpline for people living with emotional and mental health challenges. Calls are answered by specially trained volunteers who have lived experience with mental health challenges. They have a deep understanding of what you are going through and are here to provide emotional support, comfort, and information. All calls are confidential.
  • Friendship Line (800-971-0016) is a 24/7 toll-free crisis line for people aged 60 and older and adults living with disabilities. Essential support is offered by the Institute on Aging, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that focuses on helping older adults preserve dignity, independence, and well-being. The Friendship Line is the only nationwide program that reaches out to lonely, depressed, isolated, frail and/or suicidal older adults. Their trained volunteers specialize in offering a caring ear and having a friendly conversation with depressed older adults.
  • Village to Village Network is a growing organization with a number of “virtual villages” in western Washington that are committed to “help their members age in a place of their choosing, closely connected to their communities and with the supports and tools they need to create successful aging of their own design.” Village members experience reduced isolation, increased independence, and enhanced purpose of life. Visit their website to see if there is a village that serves your community.

You can count on the kindness of others!

Keri PollockContributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, a care management, consultation, and creative engagement practice based in Seattle. She is a member of the Age Friendly Coalition for Seattle and King County and serves on the Advisory Committee of the Frye Art Museum Creative Aging Programs and the Marcomm Council of the Alzheimer’s Association, Washington State Chapter.

This article originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of AgeWise King County.