I caught the tail-end of mass in the village this morning. Of the 60 or so people in the congregation, I might have been one of three this side of 50. Afterwards, people stayed to chat, to catch up, to have a quick word and I was struck by the role of the church in villages and towns in Ireland where one in three old people live alone. It is at mass that their absence would be noticed, particularly if they’re daily communicants.
There’s been a lot on the telly here about Ireland’s ageing population. On Primetime the other night, Fiona Pender did a special on urban isolation. One old dear of 92, who has relatives (kids, grandkids, etc.) told of how she refuses to leave her home on Christmas Day. Her reason? Going to a house packed with life makes it all the harder for her to come back to the empty house that is hers.
Others spoke of how long the days are when no one comes to visit them. How the hours drag out. They need fewer hours sleep and those hours that they spend awake can only be filled with so much TV, so much reading. It’s the company the crave – what they want most. Someone to talk to, someone to care.
We’re in danger of doing ‘old people’ an injustice. We think we know what’s best for them. Sometimes we forget they’re there. More times we can’t be bothered with their rants and raves and trips down memory lane. We don’t have the time, the patience, or the inclination. If they’re family, we might be harbouring some residue of lifelong resentment. if they’re neighbours and of a curmudgeonly disposition, we might be nursing a grudge. And perhaps we are justified in doing so. But we shouldn’t forget that they’ve probably earned the right, by virtue of their years, to be the way they are.
The concept of old is relative. I have friends who are in their 80s and still playing golf. Another in his 90s who is complaining about how old everyone else is around him – old in their minds. More in their 70s who are dating again and finding a new lease of life. They’re enviable. They’re active. They have friends.
Just a thought…