Loss and Resilience in Older Age

How can we understand our reactions and responses to the current time?

This coronavirus pandemic is a strange, roller coaster time of ups and downs in our daily lives. We are very likely worried about others and ourselves, on alert, and at the same time want distraction and any good news stories. Maybe our routines and immediate plans are currently up in the air……

Yet we live in the same place with the same view out of the window and with the same community around us. How much of our daily lives have changed and for how long? This coronavirus pandemic will pass. We live in a country with a National Health Service that is free, staffed with skilled hard-working doctors, nurses, carers and other valued, dedicated staff. Staff and supplies are under pressure but we are perhaps relieved we live in the UK.  We will also be concerned about our sisters and brothers worldwide. We are told news every day. This is a mixture (currently in March) of worsening statistics, news stories of dedicated work by medical and local authorities, communities singing and exercising from balconies and lots of other creative ways to stay connected and fit, despite this new term “social distancing.” Some of us are rationing our intake of worrying news. We may also be hearing heart-warming stories and seeing cartoons that make us smile.

Life’s Ups and Downs

Many of us are feeling all kinds of emotions. Some remember previous national and personal hard times. We know from life experience that we have mostly weathered and come through loss of many kinds: family, health, money and work difficulties, ruptured relationships, uncertainties and unexpected challenges. We have also experienced many positive aspects in our lives, and more to come!

And… we have got through to where we are now. Some have had a lifetime of raising families, years of work, acquiring skills and knowledge, having periods of happiness and fulfilment and may on the whole be mostly satisfied about the small and large contributions we have made, and in some ways continue to make to others.

However, at present we may find our mood and outlook changes during the day so that we are experiencing ups and downs. I have just spoken to my 90 year old mother a hundred miles away. She spent the morning reading (in her view) a depressing newspaper article about future country finances and then sat in the sunshine in her garden enjoying the flowers. This morning I felt anxious listening to the news, but then listened to The Archers and went out for my daily walk and saw the daffodils, looking colourful and beautiful whatever is going on around them despite the earlier floods. They flower every year whatever is happening!

We may be worried about our families and friends. Are they well? Will they stay well? Will we manage to get our food and other requirements? Will those unable to work have enough money to manage, jobs to go back to and have time and space for their children to do some schoolwork, have some fun and ways of releasing their energy? Will teenagers and others facing external exams be supported through the next few months and through the next academic and life changes in their lives?

And how do we find peace and distraction when we need that? We have the wisdom and experience of older age to know how we cope in difficult times. Perhaps we pray more and find our religious belief helpful and then we can cry out in our own way: why is this happening to me and to them? Sometimes we doubt our religious faith. Do we have the resilience to cope with this uncertainty? How long will this last? Will we stay well?

I worked for many years supporting people through bereavement and loss, and to a limited extent I still do! You may wonder why I am mentioning loss. We may currently be fearing loss or bereavement or worry about change and having to live a different life for the moment. Our routines and networks are disrupted. We may be grieving for the freedom to go out and meet others or have visitors calling round. We wonder about people’s jobs, and anxieties about paying bills, rents and mortgages, Perhaps we have “lost” our peace of mind?

 A Loss, Change and Bereavement Model

One of the most useful, enduring bereavement and loss models, in my view, is from Stroebe and Schut that focuses on how we each individually may respond to loss, bereavement and change, including a changed perception of our current life and the world around us. You may be familiar with it. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t. After many years of offering it to people I have learnt a number of points:

  1. You are the person who knows best how you think and feel and you are the expert in that, even if at times it doesn’t seem like that. Others can try to empathise with how you think and feel. 
  2. There are two main types of responses we may find we are using, as follows:

a) FEELINGS – You may respond to loss, change and bereavement by feeling sad, panic, angry, guilty, disorientated and experience a number of emotions. You may be very aware of feelings and trying to work through your emotions of loss.

b) MANAGING & PLANNING – You may be someone who manages loss, bereavement and the perception of a changing world by trying to plan and manage it, allowing yourself to plan for the future, be distracted and sometimes even deny to yourself it is happening.

3.  Neither of these ways are either right or wrong – the way of feeling the emotions, or the way of planning a way through – they are both alright and are just how they are.

4. We are all different but you may encounter some difficulty if you get stuck  either with only feeling the feelings or only trying to cope and plan too much.

5. We usually learn to oscillate, move between, expressing emotion and working towards a future. So, a mixture of both a) feeling the feeling and b) managing the situation towards the future is needed, so this is not an “either/or” but a “both and” way of dealing with our lives. That is why it can seem like a roller coaster experience: up and down.

We all have our existing losses and now with Coronavirus we are dealing with the anxiety of the immediate future. This can compound the feeling of loss for us depending on the losses we are already experiencing.

Resilience

An important point to offer is that those working with people who are experiencing the challenges and positives of everyday lives often use the word resilience. Here resilience isn’t defined as being brave and positive all the time. What is meant here, in my view, is that a resilient person is one that can hold the difficult and positive stuff together and continue in their lives.

We all have ups and downs but in older age we have usually realised that we have come through a lot of life and can hold what we have experienced from the good times and the challenging experiences at the same time. So we are usually quite resilient even when it doesn’t feel like it!

Let us keep supporting each other through this in whatever way we can. When this corona virus time comes to an end we can look back together and see how we came through!

Pippa Bonner March 2020

‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you’ – a helpful booklet

We have produced a short booklet containing both practical information, tips for coping with our current situation, and prayers and poems to uplift and encourage.

Recognising that many older people may not have email or are less familiar with using the internet, here at GOG we decided to put together this colourful booklet and have sent it out to nearly 200 people on our contact list, for whom we had no email details, only a physical address. Our hope is that this will bring some small blessing to those who receive it through their letterbox.

You can also view, download, share or print an A4 version of this booklet below:

There are two versions – one that is more suitable for those connected with the Catholic church (Catholic version) and the second which has less specific Catholic content but still includes prayers and scripture (General version).

PLEASE NOTE: this printable version is designed so you can print it off yourself on A4 landscape and staple it at the left hand corner or left hand side, (as most of us do not have a long arm stapler to staple a booklet in the middle!)

Why not print it off and send it to a friend who would benefit from some encouragement and help at this time?

Alternatively, send a link to this page by email or Whatsapp to your friends and family.

If you would like to reproduce this booklet yourselves to distribute in hard copy A5 booklet form, please contact Rhoda at growing.old.gracefully@dioceseofleeds.org.uk for the original artwork.

In addition, if you would like to add your own organisations’ details to the back of the booklet before distributing, or work with us on an amended version for your area, please be in touch with Rhoda – we are more than happy for this to be a blessing to people in other networks and areas.

A Reflection from an Older Person during Coronavirus- tide

A friend shares her reflections on the day to day of self isolation in a down to earth way, ending with a poem.


Hopes, fears and thankfulness.

I have been referring to Corona Virus as CV. It has just occurred to me that CV is also short for Curriculum Vitae which is what we sometimes have to write when we apply for a new job.

What might I add to my imaginary CV CV about this period we are going through? What am I learning about myself? How am I dealing with the worry and uncertainty? What do I value in life? How are my family, friends and neighbours? What can I do? Can I pray more?

Most importantly I need to remind myself this CV time is temporary and will pass.

 I am currently having to stay at home like all of us, socially isolating ourselves from others:  going outside only once a day maintaining the appropriate distance from other people. I am a younger older person who is usually fit. I am fortunate. I have a part time job which I love. I don’t live alone. I live with my husband. We have enough money to buy food and I thank God that we have our NHS so that any medical treatment we may need is free. We have a TV, computer, radio, books and I am knitting. Jigsaw puzzles are another distraction as are sudokus.

I try to ration the amount of news I listen to as it can get worrying, though at times it is also reassuring. I am so grateful to all NHS workers, supermarket and delivery staff, workers in Care and Nursing Homes, teachers looking after key worker and vulnerable children. The list is long…..

We have five grandchildren but we haven’t had them in our house recently or gone to see them or their parents because like everyone else’s families they too are socially isolated. One granddaughter came to the door to deliver a card and her mother had to remind her not to come in as she was running to hug us. A sad moment for all of us but not a permanent situation. We know where our family is. They are not missing. They are not refugees. They have houses. For some their work has stopped temporarily or altered. They are well and if they get ill, will have access to medical care. I worry about my mother who lives alone a hundred miles away, but she is receiving support and we are in contact at least daily. My sister sat in her garden with her briefly on Mother’s Day. We know these restrictions won’t be for ever.

I have recently learnt video calling on my phone! So has my mother. So we can look at each other every day on the phone! I have listened and watched one grandchild practising her reading. I have read stories to another two looking at the pictures I show them and we can chat and sing.

I have been online and watched the Sunday Mass from Leeds Cathedral. I was concerned I might feel too much of a remote spectator and miss the companionship of fellow parishioners. Indeed I did miss them. But there were nearly two thousand of us “taking part” and I knew some of them were “there.” I joined in the hymns printed below the screen. I have long believed and realised that wanting Communion (Spiritual Communion) is as good as physically receiving it. Ability to receive daily Communion has been a privilege but if this is already not so easy with fewer priests, perhaps this is one way of becoming accustomed to it. Masses where we can go and physically participate in our Parishes will return.

Join Leeds Cathedral online here

One niece living alone with three children is temporarily feeling overwhelmed with three different sets of schoolwork coming through online. It is a pressure for everyone: particularly where there may be alone and with one or no computer in the house. Two of the family are a nurse and doctor and I worry particularly for them that they will stay well. I have asked local Retired Sisters to pray for them along with the long list of requests they have from others!. There are daily examples of community singing and exercises on balconies in housing complexes around the world. So many people are saying that in the future there might be more positive community living appreciating our neighbours. Already on my daily walk I am noticing passers-by are saying hello. The air seems clearer as there are fewer cars and I can hear more birds sing! And I am appreciating what we do have more than I did in the past. I took a lot of it for granted. And there is more time to pray for those living with poverty, broken relationships, injustice, war and illness.

One of the things I hope to be able to add to my CV CV is that I will have learned to live more in the present, rather than dwell too much in the past about what might have been or worry excessively about the future. I keep trying to appreciate the “now”, the spring flowers and trees outside, the good news I read about, the acts of kindness, the humorous cartoons and jokes people are sharing. I believe resilience is about holding the painful stuff in our lives alongside the positive in the “now.”

 I have reread this week this poem by Helen Mallicoat printed on a weekly website www.NewPilgrimPath.iethat you can subscribe to for free if you wish. It has weekly poetry, music and reflections. You may be familiar with this poem already but I believe its message is particularly significant in CV times.

  I AM  
by Helen Mallicoat

I was regretting the past
And fearing the future…
Suddenly my Lord was speaking:
“MY NAME IS I AM.” He paused.

I waited. He continued,
“When you live in the past,
with its mistakes and regrets,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I was.

“When you live in the future,
with its problems and fears,
it is hard. I am not there.

My name is not I will be.

“When you live in this moment,
it is not hard.
I am here.

My name is I AM.”