We Are Not Helpless: Being an Elder in the Age of Corona

By Linda Lehrhaupt, PhD

I decided to write this because, like many people at the moment, I wanted to find a way to help others through this crisis with the Corona virus. And I realized that there is a part of the population that is not always receiving a certain kind of support that would really help them. I’m 70 years old, and I'm one of them.

Let me say from the get Go Go that I am grateful beyond words for the thousands of people who are on the front lines and risking their own health to help.

That being said, there’s something else that needs to be said, again and again, indeed shouted across the world. “We may be old, older, or very old. But we are not to blame! And we are not helpless!”

What seems to be implied, but not said outright, is that we Elders are largely to blame for all the precautions and restrictions that have had to be made. There's an unspoken sense that somehow, we're the problem that has to be solved, not to mention that we are a danger to society.

Time after time, I hear us described as the most vulnerable, the part of the population with the highest death rate, the ones who have to be protected, not only from the virus, but from ourselves, as if we're not really capable of knowing what is best for us. In a well-meaning attempt to provide support to elders, many are unknowingly being influenced by ageism. And some not so unknowingly.

Ageism is an “ism,” and like every other” ism” it thrives on the propagation of stereotypes. Ageism is most destructive to Elders because many of us are buying into it. We tend to believe in its fixed beliefs and images that are a distortion of how things really are.

Many of us Elders have come to accept that we may not be capable of taking care of ourselves and that in a national emergency such as this, we have to be "protected,” I would say almost “guarded” against ourselves, not to mention to protect others from us.

Yes, there are some of us who've reached a point where we do need a lot of help. But for most of us, that is completely untrue.

I’ll say it again. We may need help, but we are not helpless! If you are an Elder, please don’t buy into the idea that you are helpless, that you don't know how to take care of yourself, that you can't recognize danger.

I want to encourage all of you to trust the lifelong knowledge that you have been growing and now can harvest: an implicit understanding of what's needed in many situations, an intuitive grasp of being able to size up a situation or someone at the drop of a hat.

And if anyone tries to talk you out of being confident in your own gifts, send them away. Send away even family and people who seem to care, because if they won’t listen, that is a clear sign they are scared. And when people are scared, they can’t see the truth, even if it is right in front of them. If they really care and want to learn, the very act you stand up for yourself may teach them how to stand up for themselves in the face of fear. In setting your boundaries, you are taking care of yourself and you are taking care of them. Even if it takes a while for them to see it.

This corona virus is serious, and it needs to be taken seriously by everyone. But we Elders have our wisdom, our life experience, a certain generosity and sense of caring that comes with the years.

We are strong, we are resilient, we are capable of bouncing back no matter what state we are in. You can take care of yourself, and nurture your strength, your heart and your soul. And if you do need help, then ask for support, not help. Help implies someone has to do something for you. Asking for support invites people to give something of themselves.

There is a real kind of resilience that's not dependent on how you are physically at the moment and what level of health you have. If you’re breathing, you're alive. And that is a gift the universe is giving you. Accept it, take it in like you breathe in fresh, clean air.

Stand tall. Even if you're sitting down or lying in bed, stand tall because you know that you can.

Trust that! And trust yourself!

Dr. Linda Lehrhaupt is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Mindfulness-Based Approaches

Cloud Mountains A Reflection and then Guided Meditation In The Age Of Corona.mp3