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‘This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for…’ The lessons I’ve learned as a Telephone Reassurance Volunteer

<h6>Harsimran Makkad / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Harsimran Makkad / The Daily Princetonian

Before she had even said a word, I knew that something was wrong. I could sense it in the hitch in her breath as she tried to quiet her crying. “Hello, this is Sim calling for our weekly conversation. How are you doing?” 

I began like normal but tried to speak more quietly and gently. Little did I know how much these conversations would affect me, leaving me both incredibly saddened and moved.

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Towards the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, I began serving as a Telephone Reassurance Volunteer for Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly.  Remaining isolated at home with my family, I realized that loneliness was likely to particularly affect the elderly in my hometown of Cincinnati, so I decided that I wanted to be a friendly voice that checked in on them regularly.

I soon found myself laughing at childhood stories, trading recipes, debating movie plotlines, and more. At the same time, there were times when I cried hearing about their pain, loss, and loneliness — like that day I listened to an elderly friend cry.

Within minutes, I learned about how she had just lost her brother, the one constant person in her life who always took care of her. “I’m so sorry for your loss. I understand that the two of you were very close,” I stammered, unable to find the right words to say as I struggled to hold back tears. But as she began to recount stories of them growing up, what struck me the most was her quiet acceptance of his passing and her ability to find peace in her memories. Even in her grief, she could still smile when recalling how her brother would make her breakfast every day and laugh in remembrance of past pranks the two would pull together.

Later that day, I found myself reflecting on the final words she had said to me on that call: “I have been given many blessings, and every moment I had with him was surely a great one.” Somehow, despite her loss and pain, she still managed to be grateful for the time they had spent together. I was moved and inspired by her inner strength.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I’ve been reflecting on similar lessons I’ve learned from all my elderly friends. Though grappling with immense difficulties —  from grief to illness to loss of mobility to loneliness — they continue going through the motions of daily living with a vitality and enthusiasm that never ceases to amaze me. From counting their blessings to looking for the silver lining, I’ve been inspired by them to live in the moment and appreciate where I am rather than regretting the past or worrying about the future.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” In the past, I have used her words as a motto to live and serve by, a guiding principle by which I can leave a mark on those around me. But this Thanksgiving, I will be giving thanks to the elderly friends I have made over the past year, for the invaluable lessons they’ve taught me and, most importantly, for the way they have made me feel — humbled by their experiences, strength, and passion for life.

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Harsimran Makkad is a senior in the chemical and biological engineering department from Cincinnati, Ohio. She works on the ‘Prince’ as a Managing Editor, serves on the Editorial Board, and can be reached at hmakkad@princeton.edu.

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