Covid-19 has been devastating for our elders. Our parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, are suffering terribly from loneliness and fear. I hear about my older clients and family friends saying, I would rather die than live like this. Is the generation that survived the Great Depression, World War Two, the Cold War, and the culture wars, giving up the will to live?
During a recent probate meeting, a grieving daughter reported to me that her mother died of solitude. The cancer treatments no longer held hope. Hope for what – more loneliness? Confinement in a small apartment at a senior residence was too painful. Food was unappetizing and life was no longer interesting. The cancer was a condition, seclusion was the death sentence.
In a pandemic, sleep is fleeting, and nights become times to lament. The morning brings another round of solitude and grief, now exacerbated by exhaustion. Every family fight and psychological trauma can easily reemerge in a time of isolation. Time to think can be time to dissemble. Quibbles become arguments. Jealousies become rivalries. And the silence can be deafening.
At the beginning of the pandemic there was a shock of enthusiasm to help our neighbors. Offers to shop were frequent at first. Food could be dropped off at your door, but personal visits were prohibited. And quickly many were relying on delivery services. You cannot order human connection on an app. You cannot nurture a relationship on Amazon.
Baby boomers and generations X, Y and Z, can and will offer sensible advice. Take up a hobby. Develop a skill. Take a class on Zoom. Learn to play piano. I have an 85-year-old uncle who has taken up painting. Bravo! An example of someone who has put this time to use. He is one example.
The reality is that many seniors want to feel competent in the life they have known, not reinvent themselves for a time of isolation. How many puzzles do you want to complete? How much of Rachel Maddow’s neck can you really admire? How many interesting meals can you create with arthritic hands and limited stock? Is it worth figuring out how to sign on to Netflix?
How does one thrive rather than endure when weeks of isolation become months of incarceration?
To make matters worse, Americans, and particularly middle-class folk, are obsessed with finding ways to preserve health. If you cannot go to the gym, you can go outside. If you can no longer run, you can go for walks. Well, at least you carry your trash out and check your mail, that is exercise too!
Our society has a fascination with longevity but overlooks the issue of quality of life. What happens when long life is more a curse than a blessing? How does it feel to swallow statins and blood pressure pills to maintain a weary and bored existence? Is medicine prolonging life or forestalling death? Pain relievers do nothing to quell the existential angst which may be far more devastating.
The children of elderly parents have a burden to bear. They will ask did I shut my elderly parent out?” Did I lock them in? Did I worry more about the spread of virus than I did about the curse of depression? Are we killing seniors with the “kindness” of fortification from covid-19?
The current pandemic is a time to consider quality of life and not just length of years. How might these issues affect your choices regarding a living will – that document that directs the measures to be taken when we are terminally ill. Who will you select to make health care decisions for you if you are incapacitated? Does that person understand your goals for your life as a senior?
The current pandemic has laid bare these difficult choices. Now is the time to discuss your thoughts with family, partners and friends about how you wish to be treated in your senior years.