Coronavirus is making orphans of us all: Many deaths caused by the virus are of elderly people. TRT World explores whether the pandemic will alter family structure or societal bonds.
The death of so many grandparents and parents is sure to affect the concept of family. Around the world, grandparents, so often known for their fondness for children, the unconditional love they offer and their care and patience towards their grandchildren, are at risk and dying.
Their deaths will leave parents and grandchildren with an irreparable loss. TRT World spoke to psychiatrist Dr Ercan Ozmen and sociologist Esin Hoyi to discuss the pandemic and the elderly.
Dr Ozmen says the elderly are the pillars of society.
According to Dr Ozmen, who continues to see patients online during the coronavirus pandemic, there hasn’t been any who have lost their parents or grandparents to Covid-19. “Yet,” he says, “losing an elderly relative is a major trauma to any family.”
“The loss of an elderly relative,” he says, “creates feelings of guilt. The feelings of guilt originate from thoughts such as ‘I wish I had seen them more,’ or ‘I wish I had taken better care of them’ or ‘I wish I had told them I love them more often.’”
The feelings of guilt accompany the feelings of grief and mourning towards the deceased, he adds.
During the coronavirus epidemic, Dr Ozmen says most people have cut off physical contact with their elderly relatives for their safety. Still, this doesn’t prevent families from falling into patterns of anxiety.
“People who live away from their grandparents or parents become anxious,” he tells TRT World, “perhaps calling them multiple times a day.” He says that’s not all: “They are also worried they may have spread coronavirus to their elderly relatives.”
“Some people are getting anxious over the possibility of their elders’ deaths rather than their actual deaths,” Dr Ozmen muses. “We all worry, but sometimes it reaches pathological proportions.”
“Life isn’t something you can keep postponing,” he points out. “The coronavirus pandemic has made us re-evaluate our real priorities, has made us take stock of what really matters in life.”
“We have come to realise so many things that we didn’t care much for are actually very important, such as our health, our daily routines, our activities,” he adds. “We have found out about many of our fallacies, such as the fallacy that everything is under control (control fallacy).”
“The upside of the pandemic, if it can be called that,” Dr Ozmen says, “is that we have been spending more time together with the people surrounding us. We used to lead individual lives and now we are learning to spend time together. Our losses and potential losses [to the pandemic] have shown the importance of our relatives and friends to many people.”
According to him,”the most striking aspect of all this is that we are spending more time with our families and if we can see it as a gain, it will be a great reward.”
He sees the quarantine as an opportunity: “Whether we like it or not, we are communicating more and sharing more. These are very important developments.”
Esin Hoyi is a sociologist and lecturer at Bahcesehir University, Istanbul. She says people have engaged in an unnecessary flurry of activity in urban life. “The body is so used to being on adrenaline all the time that people seek out problems when there are none,” she points out.
“We were leading fast lives, we didn’t have time to see each other [for what we were], to inspect. There were so many people who didn’t have anything to do except to engage in sports and health movements,” she says. “Or take retired people like me, we would go out to eat in groups on a regular basis with friends, that was our activity.”
Hoyi believes that there is a silver lining in every cloud. She thinks that the pandemic is making us stay home, know our family, to think about our friends, to worry about losing someone and to appreciate their worth. “It makes us see how wrongly we have constructed our relation with the world,” she says.
“I think the elderly are the best protected people right now,” Hoyi tells TRT World. “While there is of course a risk to the elderly with underlying conditions, they tend to be more vulnerable, more likely to die [from the coronavirus].”
“If I were to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19,” Hoyi muses, “no one I love will be able to accompany me. I’m 80 years old. My classmate asked me where I will be buried when I die.”
“When I told her Karacaahmet cemetery,” Hoyi adds, “she was so happy because that’s where she would be buried, too.” Hoyi says her friend, who has cancer and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), cannot talk to her own daughter about such matters because the daughter just won’t hear of it.
According to Hoyi, people are psychologically affected by the pandemic, but because some are not at peace with themselves they cannot occupy themselves with things to do while at home, or dealing with the probability of death of a loved one. “I’m not sure how most adult children will deal with the death of their parents, the grandparents of their children because they are not in touch with their emotions,” she says.
Hoyi warns that “Whatever the adults do, the child will pick up on it. Even the pets will pick up on it.” She says the belief that “I’m not letting my emotions show” is a false one, and that adults in the family need to learn how to cope with their own stress.