John Dolan: Virus is stealing our elderly and locking the rest away, they are the real victims here and it’s our job to give them hope

Sure, the coronavirus is having an impact on all of our lives, but there is one cohort of people who are bearing the brunt of it — in every conceivable way: Our elderly. So says John Dolan in his weekly column
John Dolan: Virus is stealing our elderly and locking the rest away, they are the real victims here and it’s our job to give them hope

"The over 70s, just as predicted, are falling prey to the illness and dying in far greater numbers than anyone else." Picture: Stock, posed by model

FROM fretting Leaving Cert students to stressed business owners; from harassed parents to bored children; and from perturbed politicians to exhausted nurses... there isn’t a person in this country unaffected by the trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As the crisis here slips into month two with no sign of it abating, it’s tempting to fall for the line that the virus is an equal opportunities destroyer.

After all, that attitude is a good way to unite a nation that is having to show its togetherness by staying apart.

We’re all in this together, and we will come out of it together, so they say.

Except that isn’t really true at all.

Sure, the coronavirus is having an impact on all of our lives, but there is one cohort of people who are bearing the brunt of it — in every conceivable way: Our elderly.

The over 70s, just as predicted, are falling prey to the illness and dying in far greater numbers than anyone else.

The virus, silent, invisible and insidious, has found its way into our nursing homes and family homes, and it is the elderly who are the mainstay of the statistics in our daily fatality rates.

There are some, a small minority granted, who like to see themselves as realistic and pragmatic, and who wave away the victims of this virus with an uncaring hand.

They would have died anyway, they tell us.

It is an unmerciful, inhuman response. All of us, including the realists and pragmatists and, yes, our children too, will die eventually. But to be taken before your time by a virus that didn’t even appear to exist five months ago is an appalling tragedy.

To add to the grief, the elderly who succumb are even denied the send-off their long and fruitful lives deserved; buried without fanfare with even close family told to stay away.

The heart bleeds for the hundreds of elderly people and their families who have had to suffer in this way in recent weeks, and who will do so for many weeks to come.

The virus doesn’t just discriminate against the elderly in death. For those who are surviving and living in lockdown, the prognosis is far worse than it is for the rest of us.

While we fret about our jobs, schooling or lost holidays, their worries are existential. Will they or their loved one catch the virus? If so, will they survive it? They see the statistics, like the rest of us. The very prospect must be hard to process, even for our stoic and hardy elderly.

They have other worries too.

Are they being a burden on their families? Do they tire of being patronised? I’m sure many are sick of the word ‘cocoon’ by now.

As the rest of us optimistically await the partial end of lockdown, the elderly know they will be the last to be relieved. They must be staring at the prospect of months on end in their homes, as the four walls become more like a prison.

As one man in his eighties, who is cocooning alone and missing his daily pint, told me this week, this isn’t life or living in any meaningful way.

Then there’s the hugging...

Now, my close family excepted — and even then only on rare occasions! — I would happily forego hugging anyone else for the rest of my days.

Because, whatever the touchy-feely millennials may have us believe, we Irish are not a nation of huggers. We find it awkward. A handshake is fine, on formal occasions, but a hug?

Lookit, it’s my firm belief that hugging was invented in Ireland around 2002. Until then, it was only permitted at the end of All-Ireland finals (and even then by the players only).

Yes, feel free to call me emotionally repressed, but come on, can you imagine Michael Collins hugging someone? Or Roy Keane?

No, the only people duty-bound to exchange a hug in this country should be grandparents and their grandchildren. And the coronavirus has cruelly ended this fine tradition.

"The virus doesn’t just discriminate against the elderly in death. For those who are surviving and living in lockdown, the prognosis is far worse than it is for the rest of us." Picture: Stock
"The virus doesn’t just discriminate against the elderly in death. For those who are surviving and living in lockdown, the prognosis is far worse than it is for the rest of us." Picture: Stock

Many of us have pensioner parents and older family members who have been sitting this out, and I have been pondering how best to reach out to them — metaphorically — at this time.

What is the best thing we can do to help them get through what could be months of lockdown?

Well, we could try to find ways to allow them out of their homes for a few hours on certain days for a start.

Under current cocooning rules, the over 70s have to stay home at all times. But couldn’t we relax that for just two hours a day — say from 2pm to 4pm? Hours when the under 70s have to stay in, to allow our elderly space to walk in parks and other outdoor spaces, while observing social distancing. To breathe in the air and smell the flowers.

Let’s not condescend them... they are well able to keep their distance from each other, they are old, not daft!

The other thing we can do to honour our elderly is to offer them real hope that this will pass.

Our Government has too often been guilty of dishing out bad news and holding back the good during this crisis. That has to stop, for the sake of our elderly.

Let’s give them something to hold onto in this dark time.

A few hours of enjoying life outdoors in the daytime — at the expense of the rest of us — and some real hope that this will be beaten are what they need.

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