Growing old can be scary. Your body deteriorates. Your limbs lose their muscle tone. Your reflexes get slower. Your memory slowly fades. It’s inevitable. It’s the way life works. Nobody lives forever.
But it turns out that the most frightening thing that could happen to you when you grow old is when you’re left alone. In the U.S., there are senior citizens who live in retirement homes. Others, though, end up living alone.
Mary Tony, a senior citizen who lives alone, stays sane with her “junk mail routine.”
THE STORY OF “JUNK MAIL”
The Voyager film crew visited the house of a 98-year-old woman named Mary Tony in Pennsylvania because they wanted to document how a senior citizen living alone spends her day. Mary graciously welcomed the group and bravely let the film crew get a glimpse of her life.
Mary smiles for the cameras.
When the film crew asks Mary if she prefers living alone, she quips, “I don’t mind. What am I going to do? Where could I go? I am by myself.” She adds, “I can’t live with my nieces. They all have their own families.”
Mary reveals that the most challenging part of living alone is figuring out what she could do to fill the hours. This is when she reveals, “You know what I do? Don’t laugh. I get junk mail, I strip it. And after I strip it I cut it up small, put it in a bag and put it for garbage.”
She went on to explain, “I have to do something; otherwise I’d go nuts.”
Thankfully, Mary gets a little reprieve from her unbearable loneliness. For a few hours each day, from Monday to Friday, representatives of the Easton Area Lifestyle Campus (formerly the Easton Senior Center) pick up Mary and bring her to the center, where she gets to socialize with fellow seniors. They eat, they play games like shuffleboard and Wii bowling, and they even hold special events like the “Senior Prom.”
From Monday to Friday, Mary participates in activities at the senior center.
But one of the senior center’s workers had a heartbreaking observation, “Some of these people are 98 years old. Their children are now having grandchildren. So, they kind of get pushed off to the side. They’re not as needed, they can’t do as much… so they come here.”
Mary bonds with one of her friends at the senior center.
It’s easy to see why Mary looks forward to her trips to the center. She says, “I can’t wait until morning comes so I can go to it. Yeah, I like it down there. You meet friends. You talk to them. You do something to pass your time. Otherwise, like on Saturday and Sunday, there’s nobody here.”
A bus from the senior center picks up and drops off Mary.
In a role-reversal, the filmmakers then invited some of the senior center workers into Mary’s home so they, too, could see how Mary lives at home. After finding out about Mary’s junk mail routine, one of the workers cried. She said it had never really occurred to her to think of what the senior citizens do in their own private time. “I guess I never thought of that, after they leave me, and I go home to my life,” the woman revealed.
In the video, Mary is seen thanking the film crew and the senior center workers who dropped by her house. “I love you all for coming. It’s made my day, and I’ll never forget it,” she says.
A senior center worker visits Mary's home.
Voyager turned Mary’s story into a short feature, clocking in at 10 minutes and 51 seconds. They titled it, “Junk Mail.” The video has since gone viral. The story has made many of us rethink how we treat our elderly.
The impact of “Junk Mail” is such that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the study, “A Profile of Older Americans.” According to the data, “6% percent of non-institutionalized women more than 75 years of age, live alone.” This is a percentage that increases with the age.
Statistics, though, mean nothing to people like Mary. She simply declares, “I do whatever I can…and when I can’t anymore, I’m done for.”
Mary waves from her porch.
But while Mary wouldn’t want to impose on her family (or anyone else, for that matter), it goes without saying that she deserves more attention and care than what she’s already getting. Sometimes, a simple phone call is enough to remind her that she hasn’t been forgotten.