Shocked by two very different deaths of elderly people in our country – and angered by the deficiencies within our society which they highlight – our columnist appeals to readers to look out for vulnerable family, friends and neighbours…
Few things shock me; maybe I’m becoming accustomed to bad news, I really hope that I’m not. However, last week’s sad news that a lady in her 80s was found dead in her Wexford home, having lain undiscovered for a staggering two months, really took the wind out of my sails.
To those neighbours, sorry ‘shocked neighbours,’ who clambered like rats off a sinking ship, and who fell over themselves to speak with the Irish Independent in an effort to garner some precious column inches with their pathetic, whiney and contemptible, “We didn’t really know too much about her. She is from Wexford County I believe. All I really know is that she had been living in the town for some time,” and “I know she doesn’t have any family in the area;” I have to say, shame on you; you’re a disgrace; you’ve got the collective compassion of a boiled beetroot.
In fact readers, call me cruel and nasty if you like, but in my opinion, if humanity were a crime, these heartless neighbours’ faces would be top of our country’s ‘most wanted’ list; along with those of this poor lady’s family; if indeed she does have any still living – because you all left her desolate; depriving her of human contact and that fact alone had to have seriously psychologically and catastrophically affected her, especially in her final moments. Now look, we know that evolution has programmed us to mind our own business and let people get on with their lives and that’s grand; an individual is entitled to live alone and independently if they so choose; we are all entitled to privacy, but for God’s sake folks, couldn’t one neighbour/family member have exercised a shred of decency and kept even a discreet eye on this vulnerable lady?
Couldn’t one of you have taken her for a little drive to the park to smell the flowers or called around and brought a drop of hot soup and a bunch of flowers? Would that have been such a bitter pill for even just one person in the community to have swallowed?
I have to say, when writing this column, I did a bit of research and what I found has alarmed me. You see readers, according to statistics compiled (and based on our last Census), there are remarkably high levels of elderly people living in isolation in rural Ireland with County Roscommon, yes, us, recording some of the highest rates (in fact our county lists the second highest rate across Ireland), of people over the age of 65 living alone. Now folks, as you lift your third cup of skinny, non-fat, non-dairy (that’s me), decaf Latte to your freshly-glossed lips with your newly-manicured paws and excitedly compare Christmas shopping lists with your mates, know that somewhere nearby there’s an elderly gentleman or an elderly lady who has nobody to engage or share a joke or a hug with; let alone a cuppa…now isn’t that alarming?
But nasty things don’t just happen to our senior citizens living in rural Ireland; oh no. Last week, you probably read about 37-year-old Dubliner Sabrina Cummins; described as “a murderer and brazen, hard-nosed liar,” by Mr Justice Tony Hunt, (I think you’re too polite, Your Honour) as he handed down a sentence that would see this vile individual caged for life for the murder of vulnerable pensioner Thomas Horan.
I won’t go into detail regarding the vicious torture that was visited upon this poor man, but his grisly, violent death once again drove home for me, the sheer neglect and disregard that we, as a nation, appear to have for our senior citizens who have, I think you will agree, just as much right to live with dignity and pride as the rest of us human beings!
So, this week, I want to ask readers to reflect on the deaths of those two vulnerable, elderly people and spare a though for your own family, friends and neighbours who, although possibly in good physical health and appearing to be capable of taking care of themselves (for now), may, on the inside, yearn for some companionship, to just pick up the ‘phone and ask “Hi, how are you?” You never know, you too could also benefit from making that call.
After all, our senior citizens have contributed to their families, their communities and their country, meaning they’ll be well equipped with a vast repository of buried memories and interesting, tantalising tales that could entertain, enlighten and educate you; possibly even resulting in a valued mutual friendship for you both.
So today, as the biting, cold weather and dark, lonely nights draw in, I want to say:
Kids…yes, mine included, ring your mother and not just when you need me to write you a witty slogan or a promotional business blurb!
Teenagers…stop fiddling with your body piercings and ring your Nana and Grandad, they would love to hear from you and I can guarantee, as a Nana myself, they’ll derive enormous pleasure from listening to your energetic stories. Also, remember teens, grandparents are non-judgemental, meaning they’ll offer you a soothing, caring ear and useful advice based on a lifetime of experience. If readers are passing an elderly neighbour on the street, stop and say hello. Now I have to tell you a couple of weeks ago, while driving on the motorway, I noticed an elderly lady walking along the hard shoulder; carrying a shopping bag. I immediately slowed down, indicated, stopped my car, got out and walked after her to ask if she was okay and if I could offer her assistance or a lift somewhere…well she snapped the head clean off me, snarling (that) she walks that road every day and advised me to mind my own business.
I’d no choice but to leave her be, however, I was concerned for her safety and contacted the local police, telling them of my encounter and was surprised to hear, “ah yeah, that’s Mrs X, she walks that road every day into town and does her shopping, did she take the head off ya, she gets annoyed when people offer her help?” Well, while this feisty and independent senior lady is entitled to do her own thing, I’m still glad I stopped and checked up on her.
So you see it’s not always straightforward but if you can, offer to help, offer to walk a dog or clean a gutter, secure a lock to a door or provide a drive to the doctor or company on a hospital visit; post a letter or contact a family member or just sit and chat and enjoy a cup of tea together. When it comes to our elderly and vulnerable, if we fail to maintain the garden of friendship and humanity their dignity will simply wither and so, sadly will they; dying tragically, alone and scared, like that poor lady in Wexford or violently like that poor man in Dublin.
As we enter the season of goodwill folks, if you do nothing else this winter and before another vulnerable senior citizen crumbles and dies alone, please try to recognise the signs and show them friendship and empathy. Cheers.