There was a sad, yet heartwarming story that came out of Rome yesterday. Police responded to a call after someone reported crying and shouting coming from an apartment. When police arrived they were met by a couple, Jole who is 84 and her husband Michele who is 94. They have been married for 70 years.
The couple was not upset because a crime had been committed, but because they were overcome by loneliness and the depressing news they had been watching on television. Apparently they had not been visited by anyone in a while since much of the city empties out during the summer months and neighbors were on holiday.
In an attempt to make them feel better, the police stayed with them, cooked them a simple spaghetti meal and spent the evening listening to stories of their lives.
Loneliness affects millions of people, especially the elderly who are homebound and unable to participate in society the way they once did. A recent study claims that while only 18% of the elderly live alone, 43% felt lonely. That’s a difficult statistic to read.
Whether someone has lost a spouse or has grown old together, the way this Italian couple has, advanced age can take a toll on your life, even if you are relatively healthy. We all know people in the 80’s and 90’s who remain very active but the majority of those who have lived that long have lost most, if not all of their friends, and what remains is a time in their lives that most people don’t remember.
While age alone does not corner the market on loneliness, there is an isolation for many older people which doesn’t offer them an opportunity to alter their lives. Phone calls and visits certainly help but much of their day involves little or no human contact. The difficult truth or realization for many is that life has moved on without them. They are no longer part of a working society, have given up their cars, and rarely leave their homes except for medical visits. The independence of living alone that many elderly people prefer to have, comes with a cost that most of us can’t imagine or prefer not to think about. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. What they know and see is confined to the walls of the rooms that surround them and like this couple in Italy, those walls seem to get closer each day.
We celebrate age with parties and photos in the newspapers of people who have turned 90 or 100 and it is quite an accomplishment. The experts tell us that advances in the field of medicine will allow people to live longer. But there is a difference between living and being alive. All of these people were alive once. They lived active and full lives; had families, jobs, hobbies, and were most likely surrounded by people on a daily basis. I don’t think they ever thought about loneliness.
We all know people like Jole and Michele. Sometimes we see them out somewhere or sitting on a porch or at a window, watching life go by as we pass. Sometimes a wave turns into a smile, sometimes a smile into voice.
At the end of the day, we all need to believe that our lives have a voice.