Maggie sits in the rocker by the window, peering out at the street and its passersby. So much hustle and bustle; it seems no one has a moment to spare. Even the squirrels seem to be in a hurry, scurrying about on the sidewalk below. What’s the big rush about?
The rocker was Bill’s favorite spot, Bill who was the love of her life. He would sit there reading the Sunday paper and how the two of them would laugh over the comics section, especially Garfield. How could one cat be so lazy? That laughter is now a distant memory since Bill passed away over five years ago. The couple did not have any children, so they had depended upon each other to fill up their lives. That had been enough for over 60 years they had been together.
Maggie’s white hair glistens as the sunlight passes through the window panes, warming her face. In one corner of the living room sits an outdated transistor radio resting on an end table. It spills out the news of the day. So much bad news, Maggie thinks. What has the world come to? Strange viruses floating about, quarantines, people homeless and going hungry.
Memories from long ago flood over her from a time when life was so much simpler, so much happier, so much kinder. A small TV sits on a rickety wooden stand in the kitchen. It is turned on most of the day and into the darkness of the night so that she can see the faces and listen to the voices of the people who have become her friends, her family. Most of the people who Bill and Maggie had called their friends in the neighborhood had one by one, passed away. Tears well up in Maggie’s tired eyes. Why did Bill have to leave her, she asks herself over and over. She feels so alone.
Maggie suddenly hears the noise of the mail being dropped through the slot at the front door. Time to get back to the reality of living as she thinks of what to have for breakfast. She grabs her cane and makes her way to the door to see what’s there—just another bill to join the others that are lying on the hall table. The apartment is so quiet, despite the noise from the radio and TV. Maggie thinks to herself maybe it’s best to rest a while longer back in the rocker and worry about breakfast a little later. There’s no rush. The day has begun for Maggie, as many others had, alone with only her memories as companions and the distant voices from the radio and TV.
Sadly, Maggie’s story is somewhat commonplace for our senior citizen population. Many of our seniors are living isolated lives, especially during this time of Covid. Many during their younger years were active, vital members of society. Now that they are past their “prime,” they are sometimes forgotten about, cast to the side. Other cultures respect their senior citizens, such as in Japan. Unfortunately, in the US, our seniors are often considered a burden upon society.
About 1 out of 6 adults over the age of 65 and older report that they are lonely. Another 1 out of 10 says they feel they aren’t needed or are a burden to others.
According to the Census Bureau, the number of people 85 and older in the U.S. will nearly triple to about 18 million by 2050.
As our aging population continues to increase, a troublesome problem is the lack of physicians trained in geriatric care for this population.
Our elderly need assurance that their physicians will accompany them on their life journey, giving support and encouragement as needed. The question I pose is this, are our medical schools giving proper training and motivation to students to consider entering this field and equipping them to treat and diagnose patients with chronic conditions for several years? If we are lucky enough to live long enough, a majority of us will require someone suitably trained to care for us respectfully and compassionately.
A society can be measured by how it cares for its elderly citizens and those who have disabilities. Do we value their existence, their richness of experience? I feel we, as a country, have definite room for improvement. The following psalm summarizes this succinctly: Psalm 71:9 “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.”
We can do better. We must do better.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient advocate.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com