As we continue to embrace our new normal, communication is more imperative than ever. Life un-der lockdown in the UK has been isolating, lonely and a challenge for many. But there’s no one I sympathise more for than our elderly. Grandparents have gone almost a year without being close to their loved ones. Birthdays, Ramadan, Christmas and other celebrations have happened differently. There’s been no coming together as a family for almost a year.
Loneliness amongst the elderly isn’t a new problem, but it has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Despite being around family, being confined to my home has made me feel isolated at times as I’ve spent months on end without much human interaction outside of my family. I’ve been trying to get better at communication, making sure I check in with friends regularly, scheduling FaceTime calls so we can get a reminder of how we all look.
One person I’ve been sure to check in with is my friend, Jane. I first met Jane when I was 13 and she was in her late 50’s. Jane and my aunt had become friends the previous summer as they met whilst travelling, and she was now in London visiting. We instantly hit it off. She was enamoured by me and my sisters’ zest for life and the curiosity we had for the world. I was intrigued by this American woman with a midwestern twang, with so many questions about our faith and culture, and who dipped her kosai into her cup of kunu.
Now, what does a young Black girl have in common with a middle-aged white American woman? Not a lot if I’m honest. We may have grown up countries apart, in different eras, surrounded by contrasting cultures, people and politics, but I think what bonds us the most is our thirst for knowledge. Living in such a suburban town in Midwestern America, there was little chance Jane would meet people like my family. With us, she learnt so much about Nigeria; the food, everyday life, our family history and more. She got to ask all her questions about Islam too – all things she would have never been exposed to without our family’s friendship.
Over the years, we’ve exchanged countless emails, sharing the details about our lives. I’ve followed her journey as she moved back to her hometown to take care of her ageing father, her story resembling some of my family’s own. I shared tales of university life and my early career as I began to navigate adulthood. Not only has Jane given me an insight into life in the USA, but she has shared her wisdom and life experiences with me. I’ve received advice on relationships, family, education and much more. With that advice has come a different perspective and experience I wouldn’t have been privy too had it not been for our friendship.
As I now enter my late twenties and Jane is in her early seventies, our bond is still as strong as ever. This past year has been particularly difficult as she’s spent almost a year in isolation. She has to be extremely cautious as to not to catch the virus due to her age and health. So, we’ve continued to talk, with me hoping that I somewhat help to alleviate any loneliness she might be feeling from the other end of a phone call.
Here in the UK, studies show that 75 per cent of older people struggle with loneliness and isolation, and I’m sure it’s only increased during the pandemic. We’re lucky that in Nigeria, our culture is a lot more family oriented. Nonetheless, things are changing. Intergenerational living is decreasing as we build lives and homes that focus on our immediate family (mother, father and children) only and less so on the extended family that we once used to emphasise. Elderly parents are living in one city, whilst their children visit occasionally as they live and work in another. Our pace of life has increased, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down, or accommodating our elderly.
Speaking to Jane reminds me of the importance of multigenerational friendships and also checking in on our elderly loved ones. We may be an ocean apart, but thanks to technology, we can still have a laugh together and connect at the touch of a button. She’s lived life and it’s always so interesting, funny and entertaining talking to her. Ageing can already be such a trying and difficult phase in life, but I think with a little help from some of the younger generation, we can better support our older generation. Human interaction is something we all require, no matter our age, so let’s remember our older loved ones too. Age is just a number, so it’s time we start rekindling our relationships with older relatives or building some new older connections today!