The Old and Dying Have Been Alone for Years- The Only Thing New is Your Attention

Trigger warning: This is about those who never cared to visit the dying or ill until they were told they were not allowed to.

I’m going to bring up something a little uncomfortable. It has to do with the headline news about the elderly and sick dying alone. About the healthy being unable to visit and sit with the dying and how heart wrenching that is. But, I gotta say, what are the chances that you would have been bedside for these individuals under different circumstances? How many times did you go visit your elderly loved ones before Covid-19? Did you hear your parents or grandparents talk about how lonely they were on a daily basis? For years? For a decade or more? For the year and a half that I worked in two different residential care facilities I can say that the majority of the residents had no visitors. Some, hadn’t had a single visit from anyone for years. This pathetic fact rarely was discussed outside of the facility but now the healthy feel deprived of their right so it’s all abuzz.

Interesting.

I believe what we are experiencing is our own loneliness- and it doesn’t feel good. Without the pressures to produce and be efficient and keep up social appearances and do self-indulgent things that feel good, we are faced with alone time. And, not alone time in the good way that feels more like a retreat- but the kind you experience when you are sent to the corner as a child. You’ve got nothing to think about except all of the things you are missing…. Only, everyone one else is missing them too so there’s no one actually to blame, which makes it extra difficult. Instead, we are thinking of our own isolation and how uncomfortable it is. It does not feel good to not have human touch. It does not feel good to have to remain in the same surroundings day after day after week after month. It sure doesn’t feel good not to have the freedom to go for a drive or pop in to your favorite store.

News flash: None of that is new for the elderly, sick, differently-abled or dying.

These individuals are regularly forgotten while the world moves at its very productive rate and no one stops by, phone calls may or may come in and letters may or may not happen. Either the “best” facility is found for them (which ironically is geared toward the generation younger than the residents so it looks appealing and worth paying for) or they are placed in the available or most convenient facility. In any scenario, the idea is to put them someplace for someone else to care for. PHEW! Ask any hospice worker, caregiver or staff member at any nursing facility or residential care unit if what I am saying is wrong.

So, how do you feel? Really, feel. Contemplate. Is what you are experiencing empathy? Are your feelings righteous or are they genuine? Do you feel like you have been robbed of your freedom to sit next to your dying loved one or attend a funeral? Had you really attempted to attend every single funeral for your loved ones and friends in the past? Because, we all know that it can take a lot of effort to get to the facility or funeral.

No judgment- just notice what your past efforts have been and what your desires are now.

If you feel deprived of a right, I beg you to learn from this so that the next time you have a family member or friend who is dying or very ill, you make time to visit them. Please, record your feelings now so that when life goes “back to normal” you are a changed person. Please recognize that our society is not set up to care for the dying in a way which you can easily participate. Maybe you now are in touch with what is meaningful and you realize that you want to be bedside for a death. Let this break your heart open.

If this strikes a nerve with you, you may feel like you are being called out. If you are in total agreement with this, you are in danger of being righteous in another way- thinking that this situation will never apply to you.

Remember that there are a lot of reasons people do not sit beside with the dying or attend funerals. Our society does not make these things easy to do financially, emotionally or otherwise. Taking time off from work is not always a possibility and taking time to grieve is not an acceptable hiatus. Demand changes in our society (and in yourself) so in the future there will be less lonely elderly, sick and dying.

My intention for writing this is to draw attention to the sudden desperate desire for the healthy to sit with and touch the dying and dead. Today, you may be deprived of caring for the dying or dead in the way that you desire, but there will be plenty more opportunities in the future.

Be changed for the better.

Author of Death Nesting and Ancient Death Doula Series. Feeding Your Demons Facilitator. Community Deathcare teacher. Mama of three. www.annemariekeppel.com