Growing old can be scary. Our strong body will become weak and frail, our muscles will deteriorate, and our once sharp mind will definitely be forgetful. But out of all these unpleasant things that could happen to a grown man, nothing is more terrifying than being forgotten and left alone.
It sure is hard to think that people who used to be surrounded by their friends will grow with no one to talk with. There are elderly who were once professionals who now have little to no productive activities to do. What’s even more heartbreaking is the fact that this unpleasant thought is a reality to the 28% population of senior citizens.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are roughly 11 million of people aged 65 years and older who are living alone. In addition, a lot of ageing adults do not have a child of their own, which results to more seniors with no one to take care of them nor keep their company.
To give people a glimpse of the sad reality for the senior citizens who have no one but themselves to spend the remaining days of their life with, the Voyager film crew created a documentary showing us the life of Mary Tony… An elderly widow from Pennsylvania who lives in a small apartment all by herself.
“Do you enjoy living here?” One of the film crew asked Mary about living in isolation. “Yeah I, I don’t mind, what am I going to do, where could I go? I’m by myself. I can’t see, I can’t hear, I can’t live with my nieces, they all have their own family,” Mary replied, painting a sad reality of the people her age.
But it is not always grey sky for Mary. Every weekdays, a staff of Easton Area Lifestyle Campus picks Mary from her home to bring her to the center to interact with her fellow elderly. In the center, Mary has someone to share a meal with, to play a game with such as Wii bowling, and even someone to attend a ‘senior’ prom with.
“I can’t wait until morning comes so I can go to it. Yeah, I like it down there. You meet friends. You talk to them. You do something to pass your time. Otherwise, like on Saturday and Sunday, there’s nobody here.” Mary said, expressing how much she looks forward going to the center.
“Some of these people are 98 years old. Their children are now having grandchildren. So, they kind of get pushed off to the side. They’re not as needed, they can’t do as much… so they come here.” A staff working in the nursing home said, explaining the sad reason why a lot of senior citizens drop by their center.
There is no doubt that Mary is having the time of her life every time she is on the center. But what about the time she is all by herself inside the four corners of her small apartment? What activities do you think a person of her age enjoys doing? Well, in her interview with the Voyage crew, Mary revealed something that would definitely break your heart.
“You know what I do? Don’t laugh,” The 98-year-old Mary said with a sad smile, “I get junk mail, I strip it. And after I strip it, I cut it up small, put it in a bag and put it for garbage.”
For some, Mary’s way of passing time may sound trivial, or even crazy. But for the old woman, it is her way of keeping her sanity.
“I have to do something; otherwise I’d go nuts.” Mary explained.
In a role-reversal, the crew of the Voyager had invited the staff of the center to come and visit Mary in her apartment. This way, they would understand what’s happening in the lives of the elderly they are taking care of, like Mary, when they are alone in their home.
After learning that Mary have to go as far as going over junk mails just to cope with her isolation, one of the nursing home staff broke down and cried. Her heart grieves knowing that senior citizens like Mary have to resort to such activity just so they would not feel so alone.
“I guess I never thought of that, after they leave me, and I go home to my life.” The tearful nursing home staff admitted.
Despite this, the 98-year-old widow is still grateful for the life she has lead. Though she may be alone, she is still thankful that there are still a lot of things that she can do. “I do whatever I can, and when I can’t anymore then I’m done for. I want to do it for as long as I can.” Mary said.
For the 98-year-old Mary, her heart is already full thanks to the filming crew and nursing home staff who gave time and effort to visit her. Thought it is only for a short time, it is more than enough for the old woman. “I love you all for coming. It’s made my day, and I’ll never forget it.”
What the Voyage crew had shown us through their eye-opening documentary is a new discovery for us. But for people like Mary, this is the sad reality that they face every single day of the remaining days of their life. Lilo and Stitch taught us what the beautiful word Ohana is.
“Ohana means family. Family means nobody gets left behind or forgotten.” There may not be a law stating that we are legally held responsible to take care of the old members of our family. But may our minds not forget about the experiences we made together with them. May our hearts not forget that their old age does not make them any less of a family. And family sticks together through thick and thin.
Watch the heartbreaking reality the 98-year-old Mary deals with everyday in a documentary below. This is how life looks like for Mary and the rest of the 11 millions 65-year-old and above elderly living alone. May this documentary touch our hearts to reach out to them so they would never have to feel alone.