From Luke’s Gospel:
Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Luke 21:1-4 (NRSV) – December 7, 2012.)
All she had in her golden years were two copper coins . . . . The tale of the widow’s mite is a familiar one, an especially poignant one as we make our Christmas preparations in Advent. It brings to mind all those poor and under-priviliged who are unable to prepare as we do, who see the advertisements for goods and services, the news reports of Black Friday, the television specials featuring warm homes and large family meals and know that those luxuries are not for them. I have visions of the family of Bob Cratchit huddling before a poorly fed coal stove trying to keep warm.
I suspect, however, that the toughest thing for them, especially the elderly who may, in fact, be widowed, is not the poverty nor the meagreness of their meals. I suspect the hardest part of the holidays is the loneliness.
As I made mention yesterday, anyone who has lost friends or family can have a hard time with the holiday season. This is especially so with our elders. Growing old does bring the wisdom of years for many people, but there are unavoidable losses that come to even the healthiest. Many lose their mobility; they can no longer walk as well as they could before and many, for a variety of reasons, can no longer drive their own cars. A lot of older folks have had to relocate to assisted living facilities or nursing homes. Often even those well enough to remain in their own homes can feel friendless and isolated because their neighborhoods have changed. Worse are the losses of spouses, relatives, and friends who are ill or who have died. The holidays can bring the sense of loneliness and isolation to a head.
A recently published study found that people over the age of 60 who feel lonely and isolated have a 45% higher risk of death than those who feel well-connected and supported by family and friends. Researchers found that the risk of death for people who are lonely is 23%, as compared to 14% for those who aren’t. I have heard that the death rate among the elderly goes up during the holidays and I suspect that the increased feeling of loneliness has a lot to do with that.
What can you do for an elderly acquaintance during the holidays? Give them the most valuable gift you have, your time. Your time is precious. Most of us have a spouse, children, friends, and other relatives who need us, but if you know of an elderly widow or widower who is without family at this time of the year, can you stop by their home for a short visit? Do what you can without stressing yourself. Being relaxed when you visit is important; sensing that you are in a hurry can be distressing to the elderly. It’s better not to visit than to make a rushed call. But if you can make a relaxed visit to let them know someone remembers them, your best efforts will be more than good enough. They will be moments of gold for someone in their golden years.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.
Yes, Eric, as I watch my mother aging (now almost 90) I think of these same things:
Long time friends share a memory well. When we get together it’s wonderful to draw freely from that well –a shared world. (And it gets easier to laugh about some of the memories as time goes by!) As one gets older there are less and less people with whom one can do that. One’s children don’t share the memory of the world that came before them. You made me think about that aspect of loneliness–loss of people with whom one has shared memories.