I was looking at the news some weeks ago and saw an item about the work of the Samaritans in Sligo town. They detailed their calls from people looking for help and advice. One third were Covid 19 related and half were dealing with loneliness. These was startling figures and prompted me to think about Covid and loneliness and fears in our daily lives.
We have all experienced loneliness in our lives at some stage and have to deal with it in our own way. I remember when my mother died fifty-one years ago, I felt a real spot of being alone in the world. She had been my rock for the first twenty-three years of my life. I coped with my grief by talking about it and staying busy in my life. Healing and forgetting certainly takes time but you will forever get triggers in your life to remind you of that time.
I had written the lines above before I went for my stroll today . I had just entered the woods when I saw a regular walker sitting down having a rest. She looked tired so I asked her how she was feeling, and she told me that she was feeling lonely because her husband had died one week ago. She found it very difficult to cope with the finality of being totally alone . Her husband was in his late eighties but despite his frailness she was not expecting him to die so suddenly.
She had visited him in the Nursing home two nights before his death. On the morning of his death, she got an early morning phone call to come quickly to the nursing home. She was happy that when she got to his bedside, he recognised her. They conversed and said their final farewells. They held hands and he died peacefully just forty minutes after her arrival. I apologised that I had not heard about his death. She told me that they had a private cremation with no public announcement of his death. I chatted with her for a while and then sauntered on through the forest. I found it difficult to forget what she said to me about the finality and loneliness of death and particularly sudden death.
Later that day I met another walking companion. Her husband had died a short few weeks ago, and she spoke about the loneliness after the death of one’s partner and the consequent living alone . She was somewhat consoled by the fact that her husband ,who was in his mid-sixties ,had been ill for some time and the family had done some grieving prior to his death. She had met my friend above on the previous day and they had a great chat and cry. They both felt better for having shared so much emotion and feelings.
Sadly ,the above incidences are a regular occurrence in all our lives . People cope with them in their own individual way . A lot of people nowadays join bereavement groups or attend bereavement counselling .Some take consolation in alcohol while others sadly suffer on internally and share their pain, grief, isolation and loneliness with no one. Others attend prayer groups or join some social activity and keep busy and connected. Each person has to deal with their own individual problems in their own personal way.
The problem of loneliness has been exacerbated by the extra isolation now imposed by the Corona Virus lockdown. Many people are afraid to move outside their own doors and are experiencing extreme fear in case they catch the Corona virus. This is particularly true of people who live on their own in isolated rural areas. They have no visitors and very little social interaction except the postman or neighbour, if they are lucky enough to have one nearby.
Loneliness ,of course, is not confined to people who live alone or in isolated areas. There are many people who live very busy lives who are very lonely and vulnerable. An increasing number of people work from home and struggle with work, babysitting, school and general housework. A number of these are living in apartments never designed to be used as work and living spaces combined. Some of these people can feel very isolated and alone . They miss the buzz and the comraderies of the office or workplace. There are fewer social outlets for them now. Many are yearning for a return to some form of normality and a return to the workplace.
We also have many friends and others who are stranded in other countries and because of lockdown restrictions are unable to travel home .They too are experiencing isolation and loneliness. It behoves all of us to stay connected with our families, our friends and to keep a watchful eye out for acquaintances who may be struggling with isolation and fear.
It is so sad but true that so many older people have locked themselves away and have not been shopping or socialising for months. They see very little light at the end of a lengthening tunnel .This group is particularly vulnerable.
It is sad to read and hear all the statistics of older people in nursing homes with restrictions on visitors ,thus making life so difficult for their families and themselves.
Some active people are feeling the stress and pain of isolation and want to get moving and actively involved again after twelve months inactivity. I ask myself what I can do personally about this and the answer is very little. I can phone up some older friends or friends who are ill and ask if I can help them in any way and remind them of the support services that are available . Each individual has to take personal responsibility for themselves and ensure they do their best to observe the rules of safety during the pandemic and stay connected.
Like all families we have the sanitiser at all doors. We keep antiseptic wipes at strategic points around the house and wipe door handles regularly. Face masks are available at the front hall in case someone forgets them .We shop as little as possible and at quiet times. As with so many people we exercise regularly, and we do our level best to stay away from crowds . Hands are sanitised and washed very often. Bins are sanitised when they are brought in after emptying each week. We ensure that we observe social distancing when we are out and about.
We make a special effort to stay connected by walking on a regular basis and in uncrowded areas as much as possible. After all that we hope we will be lucky and blessed enough to stay well and Covid free. We will make a supreme effort to stay connected with all our family members and friends in whatever limited way we can until we get a vaccine. Then and only then can we resume full social activities. Meanwhile we will wash our hands, eat well, stay well and above all else stay connected to avoid loneliness and isolation. It is so important now to look after our mental as well as our physical health.
Mick O Callaghan MARCH 16th , 2021