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 10 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. She lived a long and adventurous life as the owner of a pub and pool house on the Fraser River in New Westminster. Unable to have children of her own, she cherished the only other relative, her nephew, who lived in British Columbia.
The experience was odd, especially since I had no history, nor desire, to be a funeral singer. Nor did my husband. But more than that, 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 remember speaking with an elderly friend of mine, 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, but he also said, “I’m more and more and more alone”.
This wasn’t the same as losing one person and having the rallying support of others at your disposal. No, rather, this was the story of a man who was 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.
It made a whole lot of sense to me that this man whose losses were so great was experiencing depression and loneliness. 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. Loneliness varies from one individual to another in terms of how it is triggered and is both a subjective and negative emotion. It is interesting to ponder how loneliness can be solved, cured or avoided. It doesn’t take long, however, to realize that 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.
That evening was fascinating for me as 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.
Through it all, I watched her transform a bit and find her new normal in life. 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.
What 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. Worship with them. Study God’s word. Pray together.
Ask for help. Find a safe person who has been kind to you and ask them to help you find your way out of the pit that you are living in.
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? It might be puzzles, golf, games night, church service, family dinners. 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.
In the tragic story of Jacob, Joseph, Benjamin and Judah, we read of a family divided. Jacob was undoubtedly filled with anxiety and fear during the time when his sons were journeying to Egypt with his son, Benjamin. Left at home during the travels, his sense of isolation and anxiety must have been at an all-time high. These days were dark and depressing days for Jacob. Circumstances for seniors can feel like this. They 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! Joseph describes his painful journey of betrayal and abandonment to his brothers when he says, “you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.”
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.