“I just feel like talking to someone,” said my 83-year-old mother who lives in Bangalore.
Until three weeks ago, she was looking forward to the wedding of her grandson in Bangalore, and she would put out sarees for every occasion, showing it to my sister (who lives in USA) on WhatsApp. Both the bride and groom live in USA. Many family members from across the globe had committed to come for the wedding. We were pleasantly surprised at the promised turnout, it made me wonder about changing perspectives today, families were actually looking forward to bonding.
And then we had to take that decision to postpone it.
My mother, a pragmatic woman most of her life, was visibly upset. She understood the logic but found it difficult to digest. And it is at this point that I realised that she needed to talk about it. She needed people to listen to her. I urged family members, particularly her grand children, to call her and speak to her.
Even for one with an indomitable spirit like hers, committed to a routine of walking for an hour every morning and evening, chatting with fellow seniors in the complex, listening to Carnatic music and lectures on her iPad, going for an occasional concert, walking down to a temple and of course the mandatory viewing of Tamil soaps, she found this very traumatic to handle. The constant worrying about her family members, and the curbs on walking and meeting friends is getting to her. Yet, she is one of the luckier ones; living with her daughter and having a routine of her own, which includes dishing out delicious food every day amongst other things, she is cared for. Even so, this frightens her and she feels this urge to talk and listen to loved ones.
I am thinking of all the senior citizens living by themselves. Do they have a support system that helps them with physical needs, do they have someone helping them with their grocery, cooking, getting them their medical supplies, some one to look out for them if they fall ill or fall down? More than all of this, do they have some one to talk to, to listen to their fears and anxiety? The upwardly mobile society has increasingly moved into core family constructs. Seniors sometimes choose to live by themselves and sometimes have no choice with their children living elsewhere. Some who have opted to live in organized senior living homes, at least have a structure that supports them.
Social distance is a kind of a misnomer. In this context it is actually physical distance that is needed to keep the senior citizens safe from infection. It is time for us to pause and think, when time is not a constraint, and reflect on what our socializing was about all this while. Many of us have been living in a mindless social bubble, sometimes not realizing that it is not a stimulus for a feeling of wellbeing.
What can we really do ?
Call that senior citizen in your family and and share all that information that may seem unimportant to you but will delight them.
Look out for senior citizens in your community and offer to do their shopping. Lend a ear to their anxieties. They might just become the surrogate grandparents to your children, regaling them with stories and anecdotes. Innovate and create communication routines for them to make them feel connected.
Send them food if they are struggling without help. You will always find ways to keep the cleanliness and sanitation aspect as a priority.
Check on them everyday and put together some basic contact details of their immediate family, and that of their family physician. Many of them might be diabetic, hypertensive and all of this could increase due to stress. Be aware as to whom you should call, that local number in case of an emergency to get them immediate help. This virus frightens us, just think as to how traumatic this must be for them as they worry about themselves, about each other.
We hear about online engagement of children, how about getting senior citizens you know to engage creatively? Motivation and appreciation of their sudoku or Kolam skills, story telling or even singing can just be what they will look forward to everyday.
Some of us live with senior citizens at home. Data has increasingly revealed that youngsters are often silent carriers of the virus and could potentially infect others at home. Isolating them within the house is the best option, however this is extremely tough in limited spaces. You will also find them defying these restrictions. We have to try to creatively achieve an acceptable isolation.
Helpers serving them could be potential carriers due to their multiple engagements. You will have to actively engage them in staying sanitized. You will have to quiz them on their other engagements and potential risks from there. I have heard of a few couples who have found this to be too risky and have decided to care for their parents themselves.
This could potentially last for an extended period. Every crisis is also an opportunity to reinvent, to rethink the existing norms and ways, to reflect on where we are, to find a different purpose, to reconnect with people in different ways. A society after all is its people and in their well being lies our growth.
Today, take a few minutes to think about what you can do for senior citizens around you, those you are connected with. You might just find an engaging way that could help others. Share it.