The COVID tsunami has cancelled the women’s and men’s world curling championships. But no matter. The TV is showing us last year’s games, which I know I watched but which I don’t remember. So, it’s like looking at a whole new game.Bad memories and old TV programs are among the “blessings” of being in jail. In solitary confinement.
Many societies today consider prolonged solitary confinement to be a form of torture. But that is what the corona panic is doing to many of us, and the extreme loneliness it inflicts may be more of a health threat than the virus.
Jim Taylor writes a fine column in the Courier each Saturday. His last column broke my heart. Jim and I have been close friends and colleagues for many years, as was his wife, Joan. But Joan died two weeks ago. Because of the pandemic, they’ve not been able to have a memorial service. His many friends can’t give him the warm, loving hugs that are so important when you are in grief. “I’ve never been so lonely in my life,” he writes.
That loneliness could be more of a threat than exposure to COVID 19. Psychiatrist James Lynch has made a lifetime study of the effects of loneliness. He contends that loneliness leads to more deaths among the elderly than any disease. The death certificate may cite heart failure or pneumonia; or the Corona virus, but the underlying cause is loneliness.
Bev and I moved into The Dorchester retirement complex ten months ago. Here we live with 150 seniors and all of us know how vulnerable we are in this pandemic. I can’t say enough about how well the excellent staff have been in protecting us from the bug. There probably isn’t a safer place for us to be.
We are fortunate. We have each other. But most of our fellow residents here are single. Mostly widows. Many – probably most of them – are desperately lonely. We are confined to the building and the grounds of The Dorchester, so we’re not totally isolated.
But staying six feet away from each other, as required by every authority from the Prime Minister on down, doesn’t exactly promote intimate, heart-to-heart conversations. It doesn’t allow for the touch of a hand, or the warmth of a hug.
A few of our fellow residents who may have been exposed to the virus are in voluntary isolation, which means they are stuck in their rooms. They see nobody. Their meals are delivered to their door. They are completely alone. Solitary confinement. And I am wondering whether their lonely isolation may be more of a problem than their exposure to COVID 19.
I don’t have any solution to the dilemma. But I do know how powerfully important it is that we reach out to each other by any means possible. We can Skype and Zoom and do all those things, and if those are beyond our technological abilities, the good old-fashioned phone is an instrument we can all use. Let’s do it. Often.
Half an hour on the phone with Jim helped us both. It was no substitute for the long lunch-time conversations we enjoyed, and which we hope to enjoy again. But it’s a whole lot better than the solitary confinement now being suffered by so many, in care homes and senior’s residences, in our own congregation and beyond.
I am so proud of First United, and the way it’s using all it’s resources, especially the lively imagination of its leaders, to reach out and touch those who are isolated by this pandemic.