I am reminded of a time when I was younger, when my heart was gentler and purer. Many years ago, my mother worked in a long-term care center, and because I was too young to stay alone during summer breaks from school, I tagged along with her to work, serving as a "volunteer." I will never forget those days or the residents who impacted my life and shaped my sense of compassion.
One man, in particular, touched me. He could hear but could not speak and, despite having been in the center for many years, had never received a visitor. I asked my mother if he had any family, and she replied he had two daughters who never came to see him because (according to them) he had been cold and cruel during his parenting days.
Now, I am not privy to what might have occurred during those years, but I do know the man I met and came to adore was far from monstrous. He was kind and generous, laughed and enjoyed life, despite his circumstances, and lit up exuberantly when we entered his room. He never failed to greet me with a cherished handmade craft, a thoughtful card, or a sweet treat he had saved from his latest meal or trip to the vending machine. I could not help but think that if his daughters would merely open their eyes to the man he had become, life would be better for all of them.
It is because of these past remembrances that stories such as those recounted in the article "Chasing Deadlines and Happiness, We Forget Our Lonely Elderly" (link below) never fail to bring me to tears. I have worked and volunteered in a number of long-term care facilities over the years, and the loneliness and sorrow of the nearly-invisible residents can be overwhelming to witness. There are scores of elderly and ill, silently wandering the halls like ghosts, hidden in the shadows of joyless, austere rooms, who have not a single soul to care for or about them.
We are busy and preoccupied with our own lives, for certain, but there lies a deeper explanation behind this horror than that which first meets the eye. Though pressures and demands on our time and sympathies do indeed abound, the secret truth lying just beneath the logical facade we create is that we have largely become cold and callous to the suffering of others. We are self-centered beings who have developed the ability to simply disconnect, to pretend the struggle of others is not our concern. At times, we ignore even our own loved ones. We tell ourselves soothingly that we live too far from our parents or siblings to help and that we have our own families to care for now, our own priorities to meet. Besides, there are other relatives who are better equipped emotionally, physically, and financially to bear the burden. And, after all, we assure ourselves, we were never really that close to the pitiful soul now desperately seeking help in the first place.
So, we become strangers who move on with our lives without so much as a second glance at the plight of the lessers. We repress the memories and banish the haunting images of our abandoned loved ones (and the twinges of guilt they bring) to the backs of our minds. We convince ourselves our fellow human beings are no longer our problem -- there are care facilities and organizations, volunteers, and distant relatives and friends who are more qualified to tend to that sort of suffering for us. Our lives are dedicated to our own goals and desires, which far outweigh the needs of the forgotten ones, and we cannot be bothered with the great demands of selflessness.
I am not familiar with the individual stories and past lives of all who find themselves alone, but I do know they once had families, neighbors, and friends who loved them. They had dreams and hopes for a fate far better than roaming sterile hospital halls alone, and they long to again engage with the loved ones who have abandoned them to this prison, this living Hell, to be once again appreciated, adored, and fondly remembered. They yearn to find meaning and purpose in their hopeless existence and connect with others who can spare them from the silence and isolation which marks their seemingly endless days.
I do not claim to have simple solutions, but I ask you to please remember these poor souls. Visit, call, write. Shower them with affection, and let them know someone cares, that they were thought of, that they matter. Though the truth may be buried deep down, somewhere in your heart and soul, you must feel the tugging to aid the forgotten ones. Every kind act shapes your path and theirs, so give freely of yourselves. You might find you are their saving grace -- and your own.
* Article Link: https://medium.com/the-guardian/chasing-deadlines-and-happiness-we-forget-our-lonely-elderly-e4268b8d7e1b