Another story highlighting the impact of modern living on the old family structure

By Nina Steele 

Loneliness in old ageDan Peterson is 82. He fell into a deep depression after his wife died. He completely lost the will to live and was waiting for death to come knocking so he could be reunited with his beloved wife. He felt that way for 6 months. It didn’t help that he was going through all of this pain on his own, even though he has children and grandchildren. In the video about his story, broadcast on CBS News, we are told that Dan’s grandchildren are all “grown and gone”. There is no mention of his children. The grandchildren are mentioned because, as unlikely as it may sound, Dan has struck up a friendship with a 4 year old girl he met at his local supermarket. She is the one who reached out to him, and on that day, he was at one of his lowest points. Even though they had never met before and are not related, he says that this kindness from a complete stranger has “healed him.”

The story is powerful because of the many issues it raises. An obvious one is that society has changed, and that some of the changes are quite dramatic. Here is an old man who does have children and grandchildren, yet all the signs (including Dan’s own words) suggest that they are not an active part of his life. Knowing how fast moving and stressful modern life has become, I will refrain from judging his relatives for not being there for him. I have seen too many familiar stories in my previous work for an old people’s charity to know that there are countless reasons why old folks with living children end up spending most of their time alone.

The story made headline news because it shows the impact intergenerational relationships can have on the elderly. And as the story proves, that relationship can be had with complete strangers, not just blood relatives. Many charities, including the one I used to work for, have intergenerational projects that connect the elderly with school children. I remember the excitement from both sides whenever the children came to visit. The old people were delighted that younger people were giving them their undivided attention, and the young people liked the fact that they were doing something worthwhile. Once again, I want to point out that a lot of the old people who benefited from those encounters had grandchildren of their own, just like Dan Peterson.

As mentioned previously, knowing what I know about the pressures of modern living, it would be wrong of me to criticise those children who for one reason or another, no longer keep in much contact with their parents. What I would say however is that, what all these stories keep reminding us is that no one should ever assume that having children will somehow make their old age trouble free. Just like everything else in life, none of us can predict the future. The only thing we can do is make plans and take charge of our own lives.

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