God is with you even when days are dark
by Sharon Simpson
I’ve only been to one funeral where the grievers were less than ten people. It was the funeral of a dear friend’s aunt. My husband was the officiant, I was in the duet. Our friend said the eulogy and his wife, daughter and son-in-law were the choir. The elderly woman who passed away was dearly loved by her nephew and his children. Unable to have children of her own, she cherished the only other relative, her nephew.
The experience was odd, I had never known anyone who had so few people in their circle of love. Since that time, I have found that the older the senior, the more likely it is that the circle of loved ones and friends have passed away. I was speaking with a friend, who, in his late 90’s told me that he had lost 19 friends and family in the past 12 months. He cried as he told of how painful it was to lose these loved ones, he said, “I’m more and more and more alone.”
This was the story of losing the rallying support of the “team” that had walked with him through childhood, young adulthood, career building, family-making, adventures, sorrows, disappointments, illness and loss. He told me that he was getting depressed.
Canada’s National Seniors Council cites that 10 percent of older adults are lonely or depressed. There seems to be a link between social isolation and loneliness. Some individuals thrive in social isolation while others who are surrounded by others can be very lonely. The answer to loneliness is not simply providing social connection.
As a cruel partner, loneliness is often accompanied by depression – the sinking feeling that life simply is not worth living.
Last summer, a daughter came to Menno Place desperate to find help for her depressed and lonely, frail mother. When we met them to show them a suite, it became evident that the mom would need nursing care to help her with her daily activities for living. With this in place and an assisted living suite available, the mother moved from her farm – custom-built home, treasured possessions and deep social isolation. Recently widowed, she was grieving and experiencing significant depression.
On her first night alone in her new apartment, I went to visit her. I was concerned that she may need something and the routines of living with support were not yet in place. Some of her things were still in boxes. When I arrived to check on her, she was relaxing in her recliner reading her book. I brought a side table close to her chair and placed all of the things she needed most, close enough so that she could reach. I brought her medications to her and read her blood sugar level to her. I brought her slippers and sipped a tea with her.
I discovered the amazing adventures that this senior and her husband experienced over the course of their lives together. She told of immigrating to Canada, meeting her husband and creating a life with her highly successful athletic children.
Months later, we had another visit. “Did you know that I was planning to kill myself in the days before I moved here?” she asked.
“No, I didn’t realize that you were so depressed.”
“Oh, you can’t even guess how depressed I was”, she said, “I wanted to roll my wheelchair out into the road and let a car hit me. I wanted to end it all, but didn’t have the energy.” She chuckled at herself.
“Do you still feel that way?” I asked.
“Oh, no. No. no. no. no.” She was adamant and passionate. “No, that has all gone away since I moved here.”
“How do you think that the depression and hopelessness left you?” I asked, “What do you attribute it to?”
“Easy”, she said quickly, “It’s the people. The people care. There’s someone with me every day. I just love the people… and I think they love me, too.” She burst out in happy laughter, dare I say… joy.
“I don’t worry anymore, I was so worried that I wouldn’t be ok.”
Moving to a community of care is not a guarantee to relieve the negative, painful emotions of depression and loneliness, but it is one consideration.
Here are some other ways that seniors can build connection in order to decrease loneliness, isolation and depression?.Make yourself go out. If you only have the energy to do one thing, choose going to an event with other Christians.
Ask for help. Find a safe person who has been kind to you and ask them to help you.
See your doctor. Your doctor may have information about resources and support groups that may be able to help you.
Get help sleeping. Depression and poor sleep are directly related. Go to a sleep clinic and have your sleeping assessed.
Do what you enjoy. Think about what you enjoy and spend your time, energy and money on it.
See a counsellor. They can help with figuring out how to keep going.
Trust in God, even when the way seems hopeless.
Seniors can feel the loneliness, depression and fear that comes when one has to choose between awful and horrid.
In this dark time, call out to God. Trust in Him, He can pull you out of the pit that you are in. He can provide what you need to make it through. It may mean making a difficult choice, but God can do a miracle, intending it for good.
Sharon Simpson is the director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement at Menno Home in Abbotsford, BC.