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A Winter’s Tale: Helping Seniors Weather the Cold

There’s a woman who sits in the square outside my office. Her name is Anna, and she’s 92. Her caregiver Magda wheels her there, just a couple blocks from her apartment, so she can feed the birds. Or, as Anna, a lifelong New Yorker, says, “the boyds.”

Anna in the spring

Seeing Anna in the square is like seeing my friend Arthur at the theater. It’s her happy place. She could spend hours there, watching the boyds fly up to the rooftops and down to the pavement; up to the light posts and down to the sidewalk. A neighbor friend Ellie often stops by to talk, which makes me pause and smile when I see them together. Ellen is my mom‘s name, and Anna was my great grandmother’s.

Ellie and the boyds and I are not the only ones who say hi to Anna, I’m sure. There must be others who make up her world, in big ways and small, as there are others in mine. New York City turns into a village like that, full of familiar faces and personalities you come to love, especially when the weather is warm and people are outside.

But during the winter, I see a lot less of Anna, and I bet the others do, too. As I pass her spot in the square, I wonder how she’s doing, who she’s seeing, where she’s spending her hours. I’m thankful she has Magda’s company and care, but knowing she loves the outdoors, I imagine she feels cooped up if she’s spending most days in her apartment.

Isolation can be a scary reality for older adults like Anna, particularly when the temperature drops. In the final years of his life, my Pop Pop used to dread Pennsylvania winters, knowing outings to restaurants and visits with friends would “all depend on the weather,” as he’d say with a groan. The cold, the gusts, the snow, whether it was a blanket or a dusting, could keep him inside for days. And when he was still well enough to live at home, he was inside and, for hours at a time, all alone.

My stepmom Beth is a Meals on Wheels volunteer – and also a dedicated daughter to 90-year-old Dorothy, visiting at least once a day.

Fortunately, there are ways to help.


Sadly, I don’t have Anna’s phone number. I don’t even know where she lives. But seeing her empty space in the square reminds me of all of the Annas I need to check in with this winter: Arthur, of course, but also some of Pop Pop’s friends, especially those living through that same Pennsylvania winter he loathed. The square without Anna also makes me think, “If only I had a magic wand, and could fly her south to be with the boyds…” I suppose I’ll have to settle with just being a good neighbor and friend. And, hey, there’s some magic in that.