When Loneliness Is Eating

Meet Bud (all names changed to protect privacy).

Bud is an elderly widowed friend who lives by himself and can no longer drive. Indeed, he is almost blind, but he has various people that look in on him, officially and unofficially, and while we don’t see him nearly as often as we’d like or we should, we try to keep in touch.

I hope you’ll consider ways you can connect—whether inviting them to dinner, taking over a hamburger or even a simple dessert, or just going out for some cheap fast food.

So recently we offered to bring a hamburger home from town for Bud. “Sure,” he said, adding, “if you don’t mind.” Always so polite. “That sounds really good.” We ordered his favorite fast-food burger—a Whopper Jr. with the tomato and lettuce—and hurried the four miles out to his house.

We chatted as he ate. When Bud finished he proclaimed, “That was the best hamburger I’ve ever had.” We were stunned. A quite ordinary fast-food burger—some would perhaps even call it unhealthy. But I think he was just hungry for one and I know he enjoyed the company as he ate.

Meet Sal and Al.

Sal is also elderly but still has her spouse, Al, as well as good eyesight and hearing, and children living nearby. On this particular evening I suggested to my husband we drop over with “dessert”—the simplest of ice cream sandwiches. When we went over, Al called to his wife to come out and join us. Sal was reluctant. Frequently “without much energy,” as Al put it, she had major health problems a few years ago. But at last Sal came out of her bedroom and sat with us and finally chomped down on the ice cream sandwich. It was as if the chocolate or sweetness went straight to her “feel good” place. She perked up, engaged in conversation, and told us how down she’d been feeling. We were so pleased to hear her say of the humble ice cream sandwich, “Boy that just hit the spot! It was so good!”

Meet Minnie.

Minnie’s husband of 68 years died recently and she still misses him acutely. She confesses that she “hates eating alone.” I do not know Minnie as well as Sal, Al, and Bud, but was not too surprised to hear how difficult Minnie finds it to prepare and consume food in her lovely home all by herself. When her small group from church met there recently, she fixed almost a feast instead of simple refreshments. But more than the wonderful and beautiful spread of food she prepared, I know she enjoyed the company.

Meet Bette.

Bette is also a widow—almost 10 years now—and she still can’t bring herself to go to a restaurant or even a fast-food place2013ImportOf2011Photos 379 to eat by herself. Occasionally she’ll pick up something “to go” from a deli or drive-through restaurant; but for her, it is just hard to go into a place and feel good about eating all alone.

I don’t think any of these dear folks—each one is approaching age 90 or just over it—suffers from technical depression. But they all certainly have had bouts with situational depression when they feel down. Who wouldn’t? Bette, at least, lives in a complex where she can go to the dining room for lunch if she wishes, and feels comfortable joining any of a variety of tables of people “eating alone.” They are not lonely because they talk with each other.

When I think of the others I’ve mentioned above, I know they exercise good habits to keep looking at life in positive ways and practicing gratitude. I admire each one and hope and pray their short stories may lead you to think of someone you know who may be in a similar situation.

I recently wrote about “keeping family dinner” in recognition of Family Dinner Day in the United States and Canada. I can imagine these folks I’ve written about just wish they had a busy family gathered around their table—or even eating on the fly, as we so often must.

If you know or have friends like I’ve mentioned above, I hope you’ll consider ways you can connect—whether inviting them to dinner, taking over a hamburger or even a simple dessert, or just going out for some cheap fast food.

The words of Jesus—the Golden Rule—apply here so well: “Do unto others whatever you would have them do unto you.”


For a free booklet, “Praying When You Are Depressed,” or if you missed my recent offer for “Journey through Loneliness,” email MelodieD@MennoMedia.org for either copy. Or write to Another Way, 1251 Virginia Ave., Harrisonburg, VA 22802.