THIR.ST TALKS: Life as a senior during the pandemic
All photos courtesy of interviewees.
Covid-19 has been a tough time for many — and even more so for our elderly who are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill with the recent surge in cases.
While it would be easy for us to focus on our own struggles during these difficult times, let us be mindful not to overlook our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Hence, to learn more about their experiences, we connected with five Christian seniors:
- Henry Tio, 76, retiree, married with children and grandchildren
- Jeffrey Goh, 74, retiree who still teaches some management courses, married with children
- Susanna Ang, 72, retiree who lives alone
- James Suresh, 65, corporate trainer/writer/designer, married with children and grandchildren
- SP*, 61, newly retired, married with children
Feelings of isolation, coping with health issues and adapting to technology are just some of the many insightful things that came up during our intergenerational conversations.
But amid these challenges, they share what brings them encouragement. Read on for the full interview!
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN DOING SINCE COVID-19 HIT?
Henry: The pandemic has lasted a long while and cases have been going up, so sometimes I feel emotionally low.
The rise in cases has also made me more cautious. Some of my friends contracted Covid-19, and sadly one of my relatives passed on from Covid-19.
I’m glad to be fully vaccinated and to have taken the booster jab, as the virus is a very real and scary thing.
But because of my faith and support from family and friends, I’m still hopeful. I’m looking forward to three or six months’ time when everything will normalise.
I feel discouraged when I see the news, but I draw encouragement (from the Bible) when I remember God’s promises to care for us and never leave us.
SP*: I retired just before the pandemic, so back then I enjoyed travelling with family and friends. But now I’m stuck at home.
I also sustained a leg injury during the pandemic, which makes it difficult to be active.
My daughter and husband are at home with me, but they are busy with work so I don’t want to disturb them. I usually spend my time cooking.
One of the few social activities I have are Zoom meetings with friends. This cycle of having some company but still feeling isolated just repeats daily.
James: I’ve been fortunate that I’m able to carry on with my usual exercise routine. I meet my friends for jogging and cycling regularly. I also walk the dog twice a day.
As I have things to do physically, spiritually and mentally, I feel very purposeful in these times. Presently I’m doing research for a book I’m writing. I’m also attending church service through Zoom.
Susanna: I would say my life is currently at 4/10, with 10 being the best it could be. There are so many things happening in my life.
Covid-19 happened, I was diagnosed with cancer, I moved into a new house and my memory is getting worse. There’s just so much to do. I have not even unpacked my things.
However, on the positive side, I have the Lord’s love so I will rate how I’m feeling as 8/10.
Jeffrey: I’m actually coping well during this pandemic. I’m quite busy socially as I have many chat groups with different people. So while we don’t get to meet, I’m still in touch with almost everybody online.
I’m also growing in my spiritual life by attending online webinars and sermons, and I’m involved in running my church’s Alpha course.
I’m a marriage solemniser too, so I have weddings to solemnise every few months. I have a lot on my plate.
WHAT ARE SOME CHALLENGES YOU’RE FACING?
Susanna: I have a few challenges with my health like cancer. I also have osteoporosis in my lower back that affects my muscle and nerves, causing me to walk in pain.
There’s also the challenge of being home alone. I’m people-oriented and I need to socialise. Nowadays there is barely anyone walking around downstairs or children at the playground.
When I’m home alone, negative thoughts come to my mind like “how come no one is calling me?”
However, I know everybody has to work and has their own family. So I pray and ask God to forgive me for being judgemental.
Henry: I’m struggling to occupy myself in fruitful and meaningful ways.
I would like to spend more time reading the Bible and praying, but it’s challenging to be disciplined, determined and not be distracted by other things, especially WhatsApp.
I have to tell myself to not use my phone too often because there’s information overload, even from well-meaning advice. I’m trying to only do things that are useful, and that’s not easy.
SP*: I used to go on long walks with some friends. However with my current leg injury, I’m not able to do so. I still meet people on Zoom, but it’s difficult to have deep interactions.
Not being able to attend church in person is also challenging as I used to socialise in church. Now I can only call to check in with friends. As a result, I have lost touch with some of my church friends.
James: On the business side, there’s been a slowdown as far as corporate training is concerned.
Some training is still going on through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. But in the past years, there has been a drop in companies sending their staff for training.
Jeffrey: Even at 74 years old, I still teach some management courses on Zoom. But I sometimes forget to press the right buttons, or there will be no sound.
Some companies also want to use Microsoft Teams, so I have to learn another platform. As an old man, it’s stressful for me to use these new technologies.
HOW HAVE YOU SEEN GOD WORKING IN YOUR LIFE?
SP*: There have been many deaths in my family. A few of my relatives and even my younger brother passed away due to Covid-19.
But God has brought me and my siblings closer as we now show more care and concern for each other.
God has also encouraged me with His Word.
Two verses that have lifted my mood are Philippians 4:4 and Galatians 5:22. They remind me that I can choose to rejoice even when I don’t feel like I have joy in me.
Susanna: I seldom have birthday celebrations, but this year God arranged for people to visit me on my birthday (within the two-person guideline, of course).
They came with cakes and spent time talking with me. I thank the Lord for His blessing.
“By reaching out and helping others, my personal issues no longer appear to be so big.”
James: God has led me to help others.
Someone I know lost his job and had difficulty trying to get a new one. I managed to persuade him to look for jobs, and now he’s managing his time well as a security guard.
By reaching out and helping others, my personal issues no longer appear to be so big.
God has also led me to start and end every day with a prayer. This strengthens me, as I know that whatever happens for the day is all in God’s hands.
Henry: A recent example is when I lost my key the other day while my family was out, so I prayed. Thankfully, a security guard later found it and returned it to me.
Another example of God’s provision is having meaningful things to do. I was thinking about what to do this week, and my friend told me about drawings you can do with leaves or flowers.
Jeffrey: I have seen God working through the Alpha Course I’m serving in. Because of the Covid-19 situation, we’ve been running the course online since the middle of last year.
But we found that more people are joining us as they can attend from wherever they are, even places like Laos, India and Kuala Lumpur!
I also see God working through my church. Church friends have sent beneficial devotions that cover areas like how to pray in times like this.
We have also had good sermon topics in church like “where is God in times like this”. Since sermons from other churches are online as well, we now have access to a wide range of good resources.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS THAT WE CAN SUPPORT SENIORS?
Henry: Spend time with us. Ask us out for tea or coffee, or maybe a walk. You could also write us a note.
Doing these would be nice as seniors are mostly at home, and meeting on Zoom or WhatsApp is just not the same.
Youths can also help by teaching seniors digital skills simply, slowly and patiently, like how to order food or buy things online. That would be wonderful.
Jeffrey: I think testimonies are helpful. Like what you are doing right now: asking me how I am doing, finding out what everyone can do so that we all don’t fall into hopelessness.
I believe it’s good to collate such testimonies from seniors. We are all of different ages, backgrounds, personalities… so we want to hear how others are coping.
“Generally make older folks feel they are part of the community, that their lives matter.”
SP*: Maybe a buddy system in the church would be good, such as assigning people to regularly check up on one or two seniors.
We think cell groups can do that. But frankly speaking, many seniors may not even be in cell groups. When somebody talks to you, you feel much better at the end of the day.
James: Find seniors who may be isolated, whether in your community or in your church. There could also be older folks who can’t communicate well and can’t use social media.
Reach out and call them or meet up with them. Young people prefer to text, but older folks prefer to hear voices.
Generally make older folks feel they are part of the community, that their lives matter.
Susanna: I know it’s hard as everyone has their own families and problems. However, we can all pray for one another.
My prayer request would be to have a long healthy life and be able to clear the many things I have to do.
Pray for Godly wisdom and protection. Also pray for a sound mind because I seem to be more forgetful lately.
ANY ADVICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE ON HOW TO GET THROUGH THIS PANDEMIC?
James: It’s difficult to experience this pandemic at your age as you’re also dealing with uncertainty in the areas of studies, jobs and love life. You may also be facing high expectations from society.
So my advice is to ground yourself through prayer. Whether you are popular or loved by others, all these become secondary.
Your primary goal is to enhance your relationship with God. By strengthening your faith, you will be able to go through this difficult period.
SP*: Reach out to someone for help if you have any problems. You may think you can go through it alone, but from my experience, I realised that it’s impossible.
When we are faced with issues or problems, we easily overthink, which causes the problems to feel overwhelming.
We need somebody to guide us and help us process. Only then will our problems not feel so insurmountable, and we will feel that things can get better.
Jeffrey: Be careful to channel your energies to the right places. Something worse than the Covid-19 pandemic is the pandemic of pornography, which is a serious problem.
You could instead expend your energy for the glory of God by supporting other youths. Reach out to pre-believing friends and to friends who are quieter.
Be there for them. They may be struggling with depression or other problems, but nobody knows.
Susanna: If you encounter any negative thing in your life, just focus on Christ and it becomes positive. This motto has been with me for many years.
Besides my health issues, I moved into a new place and am not used to the environment yet. Through all that, I felt “steady pom pi pi” because our LORD cares for us.
“Be careful to channel your energies to the right places.”
Henry: Spend more time on things like reading the Bible and less time on mobile phones. Or take up a hobby instead. Whatever is useful or beneficial, go for it.
For me, I like plants and collecting toys, which I display for my grandchildren. I find that doing these things gives me a youthful and hopeful spirit.
Having hope is especially important in difficult times. As Christians, we can thank God because we have endless hope in Jesus, who is our eternal hope and our joy.
*The interviewee has requested for us to only use her initials.
THINK + TALK
- Did any of the advice from seniors resonate with you? Why?
- How is your experience of the pandemic similar or different from those of seniors?
- Do you know of any seniors struggling during these times? How can you gather others or encourage your peers to join you in supporting them?