Lonely elders see a darker side of the festive season

2011-12-20 00:00

CHRISTMAS is portrayed as a happy time during which family and friends share gifts, but the reality is that each year during this festive season many people experience only intense loneliness.

Lifeline’s Celeste Matross said Christmas tended to be especially lonely for senior citizens who live in old-age homes or whose children live abroad.

Matross said that one year they received a call from an elderly woman on Christmas day who had no one and was extremely lonely — a counsellor ended up “watching” The Bold and the Beautiful over the phone with her.

“Most elderly people are on their own and need a human touch,” Matross told The Witness.

Social work manager at the Pietermaritzburg and District Council for the Care of the Aged (Padca), Jo-Anne Stevens O’Connor, said loneliness was a serious matter and could lead to debilitating depression and thoughts of suicide.

“Another issue is the media and hype that goes with Christmas. It portrays images of happy families getting together in love and harmony.

“Most of us living in the real world know that this is seldom the reality,” she added.

It is said that stress and anxiety levels increase dramatically during the festive season.

Cassey Chambers of South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sagad) said they received about 400 calls per day throughout the year, and during the holiday period more calls came from the elderly, “people who are incredibly lonely”.

Factors that lead to loneliness include the death of a partner, children living abroad or the elderly being too frail to travel.

Stevens O’Connor said most of the Padca homes have benefited from the community’s generosity, visits, carol singing and gifts to the elderly.

For those who have no family or are going to be alone this Christmas, Kenwyn, the old Camden Hotel, will open it doors for a meal at a reasonable price. To book, call Antoinette at 033 392 4300 by December 22.

PADCA’S Jo-Anne Stevens O’Connor offers some ideas about how to deal with your loneliness this Christmas.

• The best way is to reach out to others.

• Visit people in hospitals with the willingness to listen or read a Bible verse, or visit a children’s home with balloons or bubbles on the day.

• Find out if a church in your area runs a special soup kitchen for the homeless on Christmas day.

• If you are living in an old-age home, stop feeling sorry for yourself and reach out to your neighbour who is apparently also stuck in the home for the day. Make it a pleasant day for the both of you.

• Give a present. A gift doesn’t have to be expensive: it could be a small slab of chocolate or a packet of biscuits, wrapped, to surprise one of the other residents whom you know has no family. This will brighten the day for both of you.

• Do something for someone else and see how you are blessed through such an action.

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