This week, M expressed a very clear desire to commit suicide, including the method of ending life. Racked with pain, deteriorating health, loneliness and a lack of familial, spiritual and friendly support, M has had enough of living.
Statistics in Canada estimate that the number of depressed, suicidal elderly people is 14%. (Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario) In the United States, the estimate is 14.3%. (National Institute of Mental Health) In both countries, men over the age of 80 are more likely to commit suicide. Depression is the most common risk factor for suicide and it can be caused by chronic or terminal illness and loneliness. There are struggling senior citizens who live on our street or down the hall or in the nearby nursing home. The Advent and Christmas season is particularly difficult for those who feel desperate and worthless.
Professionally, I followed the proper course of action and contacted the agencies that can address M’s suicidal thoughts, but for lay people, there is so much that can be done to prevent more seniors from feeling such despair. What a gesture of love it would be to visit them and enjoy a cup of tea and a plate of freshly baked Christmas cookies; listen to a beautiful Christmas concert; offer a ride to church; remember the elderly in our prayers; volunteer in a nursing home; corporal works of mercy done for the love of God and neighbor. Hopefully, kindness extended during Advent will continue throughout the coming year.
Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta said ” the most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved…..Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.” This Advent and Christmas season, let us welcome the Christ Child as he manifests Himself in our vulnerable senior citizens; let the inn of our hearts be welcoming and ready to serve Him in the elderly who feel unloved, forgotten, invisible.