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Giving voice to the elderly

Gavin Thomas Murphy runs a website called Gratitude In All Things where he looks to Ignatian Spirituality for strength and inspiration.

Can we imagine feeling alone, unappreciated, forgotten, with the news of peers dying from Covid-19?

A new toolkit is being promoted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help older people during the pandemic. Called Living with the Times, it contains five illustrated posters with key messages on how to maintain their wellbeing, while supporting those around them at the same time.

Poster four encourages older people to get help if they need it. It shows several colourful scenes with a person or group of people doing the following:

  • Visiting a health or social worker
  • Speaking with a community, religious or spiritual leader
  • Seeking social support by talking to family and friends
  • Receiving a home visit from a health or social worker

When I think of older people seeking social support by talking to family and friends, I am reminded of time spent with my late Granny Úna. I remember, for instance, when she felt sad or disappointed due to a relative not keeping their promise to visit her. When I asked how she was, she said that she was doing fine. But I knew that all was not right.

I was able to pick up on her feelings through noticing her body language and behaviour: she slumped down in her chair, the tone of her voice was lower, her energy dipped and she was more quiet than usual. I imagined feeling something similar if I was in her shoes. I knew she wasn’t able to express herself in that way, yet I admired her silent strength.

It is important to listen to older people not from the head – simply by hearing the words they use – but from the heart – by listening from a deeper place. As the poster points out, speaking about feeling anxious, worried, stressed or lonely – which is natural at times – can help older people. But if they are unable to speak, then we can listen to their needs in the silence.

I am also reminded of religious or spiritual leader, Fr Donal Neary SJ, who speaks to the needs of many older Irish people in his work as editor of Messenger magazine. He says:

“The motivation for all Jesus’s meetings with the apostles and disciples after the resurrection was to love them in an active way – consoling them, forgiving them, teaching them and assuring them of his presence always… love conquers all.”

Like Jesus, we can help older people through the pandemic by being with them virtually or otherwise. They need us to spend time with them, get to know them, care for them. They need us to show our good hearts, to be generous and to be a consoling presence.

We can be a powerful companion right now. We can assure older people of our constant nearness. We can help them get help if they need it.