On August 2, neighbors of an elderly couple living heard sobs so loud that they decided to call the police. When they arrived, they found no crime, just two very lonely people: Jole, 89, and Michele, 94.
According to to the Facebook post (reported by CNA), they “improvised a cozy dinner. A plate of pasta with butter and cheese. Nothing special. But with a special ingredient: Inside, there is all their humanity.”
To help us all to understand what many of our elderly brothers and sisters go through, day in and day out, I wanted to share this award-winning video from Laura Stewart. In it, we see a man is followed around by a blob as he goes about his daily life. While watching, try to ask yourself what it symbolizes.
The meaning of the blob is left open. The memory of someone special? Perhaps his deceased wife? Perhaps she was a bit careless, pulling the chain while he was showering, knocking things over in the kitchen. Maybe there were moments of tension and an argument every now and then. Looking back, however, their absence has left an immense, gray emptiness in this man’s life and heart.
If one thing is clear, it’s the fact that life is colored by love. When there is love, beauty explodes, even in the most ordinary of circumstances. And Time is nothing but a rhythm to dance to. Sometimes things get a bit messy; but without it, loneliness is unbearable. We aren’t meant to be alone.
As the moment passes – all too quickly! – our dear friend is left, once again, alone. He is tired. His exhales are nothing but silent sobs of nostalgia and pain.
Do We Care?
Situations like that of Jole and Michele are, unfortunately, not rare. “Statistics compiled in the UK have found that a million seniors go as long as a month without talking to anyone. The statistics in the United States are probably similarly shocking…”
So, now for the tough question: do we care? When is the last time we gave grandma or grandpa a call just to see how they are doing? Is there anytime on our schedule to make it over to the retirement home? Are we too busy to bring a bit of color into their lives?
Benedict XVI, visiting a home for the elderly, used clear and prophetic words, saying in this way:
“The quality of a society, I mean of a civilization, is also judged by how it treats elderly people and by the place it gives them in community life” (12 November 2012). It’s true, attention to the elderly makes the difference in a civilization. Is there attention to the elderly in a civilization? Is there room for the elderly? This civilization will move forward if it knows how to respect wisdom, the wisdom of the elderly. In a civilization in which there is no room for the elderly or where they are thrown away because they create problems, this society carries with it the virus of death.
In an audience from a year back, Pope Francis told how:
During my ministry in Buenos Aires I was in direct contact with this reality and its problems: “The elderly are abandoned, and not only in material instability. They are abandoned out of a selfish incapacity to accept their limitations that reflect our own limitations, because of the numerous difficulties that must be overcome in order to survive in a society that does not allow them to participate, to have their say, or be referents in the consumer model of ‘only the young can be useful and enjoy’. These elderly persons throughout society ought to be a reservoir of wisdom for our people. The elderly are the reservoir of wisdom for our people! How easily the conscience falls dormant when there is no love!” (Solo l’amore ci può salvare, Vatican City, 2013, p. 83).
The elderly he visited in Buenos Aires, he said, would often tell him that they had many children and that their children visited them. “And when was the last time they came?” the pope said he asked one woman. “She said, ‘Well, at Christmas.’ It was August. Eight months without a visit from her children. Eight months of being abandoned. This is called a mortal sin. Understand?”
“While we are young we are tempted to ignore old age as if it were an illness to hold at bay,” he said. “But when we become old, especially if we are poor, sick, and alone, we experience the failures of a society programmed for efficiency, which consequently ignores the elderly.”