My dear friends,
As we approach Christmas and New Year once again, one of the themes that we are being asked to consider this year is the care of the elderly and hence respect for them. I would make a couple of very simple points that we might all bear in mind as we approach a season of the year when it is extremely easy to leave people out in the cold metaphorically and, at times, physically also.
With old age can very easily come an acute sense of loneliness. People may for the first time now be deprived of constant company, perhaps of a spouse after many years of happy marriage, and sometimes even without family close at hand They may well feel immensely isolated from life around them, perhaps even more so when there appears to be so much jollity and merriment on all sides. It is true that some of this festive spirit may in fact be forced and less than authentic, but this does not mean that the sense of being “shut out” may not be immense for many people. Unless people genuinely prefer their own company to that of others (and some people do), we should never accept that anyone should feel abandoned by those around them at any time, but perhaps particularly at a time of year which always has the potential to make loneliness such a harsh reality. We can each seek to ameliorate the plight of those around us. It is too simple to make excuses about not being intrusive. We will quickly discover if we are in fact being invasive into other people’s contented lives, but sometimes we would rather pretend that it is a genuine anxiety on our part – an easy excuse to do nothing.
Old age for many is also a time of vulnerability, even of fear. This may indeed be distressing to witness (especially in those we love) and at times we may feel powerless to help, but we should never let this sense of being ineffective allow us to treat those who feel weak and helpless, and who may even be suffering from dementia, with less than dignity. Everybody deserves to be treated with the utmost respect, regardless of his or her situation. There must be few things more painful than being treated as though one is a nuisance or a burden. This too is something we must always remember in our dealings with those how are of an older generation.
And so, I wish you a very happy Christmas and New Year. May God be with you all, and may those who feel the loneliness or vulnerability of old age know His presence, and the kindness and generosity of those around them