The United Nations has declared June 15 International Elder Abuse Awareness day. You may be as surprised as I that as our population, world wide, ages abuse of our elders is becoming a very serious issue. The World Heath Organization estimates that based on available evidence “..15.7% of people 60 years and older are subjected to abuse.” (WHO website, http://www.who.int/ageing/projects/elder_abuse/en/) According to the United Nations “Elder abuse can be defined as ‘a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person'”
While this means that not all elderly people are victims of physical, verbal, emotional or financial abuse, many among us are. What is worse is that these people are our “elders” who hold the wisdom of our culture and to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude. Compounding that they are also some of the most vulnerable of persons as they often experience certain disabilities exceeding that which are found the general population.
As mentioned in the a recent Mercator.net article (Elder Abuse, June 15, 2017, www.mercatornet.com) one cannot help but have additional concern in places where assisted suicide/euthanasia are available, as it is now in Canada. Subtle pressures can be brought to bear on persons who are in abusive relationships which is not always easy to catch. It is horrible to imagine that someone making a “life and death” decision might be somehow pressured into choosing death because they are viewed by those who are supposed to care for them as a “burden”. One is further concerned by statistics which show that elder abuse in Belgium, where assisted suicide/euthanasia is a longstanding institution, is higher than most places in Europe at 32% of persons over 60.
Pope Francis has this to say about about our care of the elderly: “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent” (Ps 71:9). This is the plea of the elderly, who fear being forgotten and rejected. Just as God asks us to be his means of hearing the cry of the poor, so too he wants us to hear the cry of the elderly. This represents a challenge to families and communities, since “the Church cannot and does not want to conform to a mentality of impatience, and much less of indifference and contempt, towards old age. We must reawaken the collective sense of gratitude, of appreciation, of hospitality, which makes the elderly feel like a living part of the community. Our elderly are men and women, fathers and mothers, who came before us on our own road, in our own house, in our daily battle for a worthy life”. Indeed, “how I would like a Church that challenges the throw-away culture by the overflowing joy of a new embrace between young and old!” (Amoris Laetitia, 191)
So how do we translate awareness into action as we are faced with a huge challenge when it comes to caring for our aging population? How do we rise to providing a truly loving response? How do we combat the “throw away culture”in our families and our communities? How do we create environments where our elders feels safe and loved rather than abused and discarded? One source for answers to the above questions can be found in Life Canada’s newest program “Make Time for Life: Dying Healed Seminar” (https://lifecollective.io/mtfl). In this training program people are given the tools to exercise the “power of presence” to help those who suffer remember their worth. Persons attending the seminar will have confidence to affirm the infinite value of those who suffer, as they walk with those who are nearing the end of their earthly lives, be they family, friends or others they might encounter or choose to accompany. This is a gift anyone can give, but often we hesitate as we might not realize the positive impact we can have or are unsure how to approach this very important stage of life.
The Eparchy of Saskatoon, Family and Life Office is offering this program to interested groups throughout Saskatchewan commencing in the fall of 2017. Contact Deborah Larmour at email@example.com or call 306-717-2756 ext 228.