Thursday 20 October 2016

We have a moral obligation to check on our elderly neighbours

Published 09/10/2016 | 02:30

A sorry tale: A garda stands outside McCarthy brothers' home in Bluebell. Photo: Arthur Carron
A sorry tale: A garda stands outside McCarthy brothers' home in Bluebell. Photo: Arthur Carron

It was shocking but, unfortunately, not surprising.

  • Go To

The sad end to the lives of the McCarthy brothers in Dublin is one which would, in ideal circumstances, focus our national attention on the plight of the isolated elderly.

But it probably won't. Instead, we will have the usual expressions of sorrow and condolence, and while these are undoubtedly sincere, they will do precisely nothing about solving the problem - a problem which only we, the people, can solve.

There are differences in the case of William and Daniel McCarthy. For starters, we usually expect elderly deaths to occur when the person lives on their own and has insufficient contact with the outside world; an outside world which exists just outside their front door, but seems a million miles away.

In the case of the brothers, both in their 70s and both deaf, they were reasonably active in the deaf community and were known in the Bluebell area as two nice old chaps who kept themselves to themselves.

But if this case seems different to the usual sorry tale, that is merely because these sorry tales involve individuals who have all lived different lives and experienced different circumstances.

But the result is still the same - an elderly person (or two elderly people, in this case) lies dead and undiscovered in their home, until checked by a neighbour who has become concerned.

According to one source in Bluebell: "Locals had not seen one of these men for a number of days so a call was made to gardaí. It seemed that the elder brother was caring for his younger brother, for the last number of years at least, and that they were extremely close."

As more details began to emerge on Thursday afternoon, we got a clearer picture of the circumstances.

The oldest brother, William, acted as a carer for Daniel, and when William died, the younger brother simply lacked the coping skills to deal with the situation.

The discovery of a note from Daniel made mention of his brother - believed to have been dead for days by this stage - being "very sick" and how he "didn't know what to do".

It is now believed that Daniel died sometime between last Friday and last Monday. On his own. With his dead brother's body in the same house. Perhaps the only way this story could become any more upsetting is if it had happened in Christmas week.

We have a pretty disgusting way of treating the elderly in our society. Through the usual process of divide and conquer, successive governments have pitted the generations against each other in successive budgets.

Similarly, the loathsome, totalitarian idea of pressurising the elderly to sell their home to make way for younger families shows how little we respect our seniors.

But this is also one of those stories which should remind us that we should not rely on the Government to solve every social issue - because they can't.

In fact, when we see the deaths of elderly pensioners, it usually emerges that it's not anybody's fault, not really.

It's just that life has a way of going terribly, terribly sour for people, and any of us could find ourselves in that situation through no fault of our own.

But as much as the urge to blame someone, anyone, is understandable, it's also a complete waste of energy.

Instead, rather than angrily shaking our fist at the Government in a typically Irish gesture of futility, there are very simple solutions to this - just pay some attention to your elderly neighbours.

There are other issues at play, of course. Rising fuel costs. The risible raise-or-not-raise they might get in Tuesday's Budget.

But these are external factors outside our control. What we can control is the simple act of knocking in to a neighbour and asking if they fancy a coffee and a bit of dinner.

You'll never see 'loneliness' cited as a cause of death.

But a sense of forlorn isolation, the shuddering, spirit-sapping sense of being simply forgotten, will kill you just as surely as a cold snap when the heat's not working.

I've never been one for Government information campaigns, but the annual drive to remind people to check on their neighbours is probably the best money any administration will ever spend because it will, quite possibly, lead to a life being saved.

It's also a problem which is getting worse.

According to the charity ALONE: "In Ireland, the over 65s' population is increasing by 20,000 every year. This means that the number of people over 65 is set to double in the next 25 years."

These aren't more meaningless statistics because those statistics are us in the next few decades.

Of course, we all lead more isolated lives now. Apartment living. Unsociable working hours. The frenetic nature of modern life. Such factors mean the last thing most of us want to do after a hard day is call into a neighbour we might not even know very well to share some small talk.

But you don't have to be a saint. You don't have to be a home help. Nobody expects you to put your life on hold while you manage the affairs of a stranger.

But the most basic and profound strength we have as humans is surely our capacity for even a small amount of kindness to the people who need it the most.

It can be tough, sometimes. Older people tend to be proud and stubborn. In my limited experience, they also deeply resent being coddled or treated like they're a child.

But it never hurts to offer a cup of coffee and a quick chat.

There are lots of thing that remain out of our hands. This is not one of them. So, check in on your neighbours and even if you don't save their life, you will improve the quality of it.

And you might just make a new friend in the process.

I certainly did.

Innocent or male - plead your case...

There was a time when we could look at the more demented ­excesses of campus life in America and laugh at them.

We could laugh at their thin skin, the weird, fragile nature of those students who - even though they are adults - insist on being treated like children.

We could mock the fact that a generation which had been brought up to expect a gold star and a pat on the head for simply existing, rather than achieving, was now bringing their infantilised nonsense into the adult world with them.

There was a time when we had that luxury.

Not anymore.

That's because the contagion of atomic levels of silliness has spread here, as Irish students ape their colonial cousins.

We've even had moral panics on Irish campuses, such as the revenge porn myth that spread in UCD earlier this year.

On that occasion, 200 Ag-Sci students were accused of having organised a pretty sickening game of sleeping with fellow students and then posting naked pics online.

The story had more red flags than Mao's funeral, and was quickly debunked.

But the damage was done by that stage - men were bastards and even if it didn't happen, it could have happened and that was the only message that seemed to emerge.

Trinity, UCD and other colleges have also adopted consent classes, on the pretty sexist grounds that men need to be taught that rape is a bad thing.

How long before impressionable students adopt the latest class in Duke University - teaching young men to combat their 'toxic masculinity'?

Under the asinine guise of 'safe space', male students are invited to 'contemplate' their hideous maleness.

It's as if we have gone back to Victorian times and I pity any young fella going to college these days.

Indo Review

Read More