168 HOURS AND A FRAIL OLD LADY

elderly woman hands

“168 hours”, she said. “There are 168 hours in a week, and I’m alone for 167 of them … every week”, she sobbed (and with just cause). It was her birthday yesterday. She was 85. She didn’t want her birthday – yet another birthday spent alone – “Yet another birthday, galloping faster and faster towards death”, quoted somewhat morbidly by my mother.

Nobody visited her that day, as any other day, as all of our family are spread over the globe and are unable to be there. I am the one who lives the nearest and I’m over 90 km away. I would more than willingly tackle the train and bus journey to see her but I cannot access her house in my wheelchair and she cannot leave it because she has agoraphobia. She has done for more years than I care to remember. It creates a very obvious physical barrier between us and means I can’t even give her a hug which constantly breaks my heart, and hers too.

She received a few well-meaning cards exclaiming, ‘happy birthday’, ‘have a wonderful day’- and it wasn’t – a wonderful day, that is, nor a happy birthday, for that matter. I’d sent a card but chosen it carefully not to have the joyous exclamations on it but simply ‘Mum – I want to tell you how much you’re loved’. It was a simple card with two silver butterflies which stood up when she opened the card. She liked that, she said.

Her health isn’t good although perhaps better than some 85-year-olds I know. But, psychologically she is not good at all. The Social Services will offer her nothing and a local senior’s charity have offered her one hour of companionship a week. Fine … except they didn’t show up when they promised. One hour – out of 168 but her hopes were dashed and any confidence she had left was crushed out of her as if a builder had trodden on her skull with a size twelve boot.

Each blow takes away another chunk of her will to live and she is slowly emotionally slipping away from me. She is so isolated and has no friends or visitors that even call to see how she is (or even whether she ‘is‘ at all). It is all so painfully frustrating and heartbreaking.

She shouldn’t be living alone but we cannot see any way out as she won’t and shouldn’t have to contemplate the thought of moving into a nursing home or the like with her mind as sharp as a new hat pin. “Nursing homes”, she said, “are awful places where men and women are seated around a room staring at a TV screen which is blaring out rubbish at top volume!” “I ought to know”, she says – she used to inspect them as part of her voluntary work in her early retirement days. “Some are better than others, of course”, I add.

I won’t go into the other, alternative options (including living with me, which we would both like, but I only have one small box room to offer her which wouldn’t even accommodate her necessities).  None of these are either possible or feasible. I phone her at least twice a day to see how she is and for a chat, sometimes for over an hour which is the very least I can do.

All she wants; all she needs (for crying out loud!), is companionship (and a hug), and believe it or not, in the whole of a large, bustling city, no-one is willing to offer that! Our senior citizens are emotionally cared for far better in the undeveloped, third-world countries than they are here in our so-called civilized, Western world! Emigrating is not a possibility!