Social distancing practices decrease the spread of the coronavirus and save lives, particularly for the elderly who, according to the Centers for Disease Control, are most at risk of death of any group from this infectious disease. Such public health precautions are unlikely to go away anytime soon.
But America’s seniors cannot live 6 feet apart from people until they are 6 feet under. They cannot be bound in bubble-wrap or kept in glass cases like Hummel figurines, deprived of meaningful interaction with those they love.
Their lives are meant to be filled with kisses and caresses, hugs and handshakes, pats-on-the-back from friends and high-fives from grandchildren. Instead, someone as intimate as a family member or distant as the person cutting their hair is now treated as a potential carrier of deadly contagion, to be avoided at all costs. Humans cannot live like this.
The social barriers now in place to isolate the elderly may decrease the number of hospitalizations and sudden deaths of the elderly, but they come at a steep price — encroaching loneliness and affection deprivation.
A world without hugs creates massive casualties of spirit. It kills what makes us all truly human, which Mother Teresa of Calcutta described as our capacity to love and be loved. She witnessed the primal need for companionship and connection of those living on society’s margins. We are witnessing that now as elders live, and die, unaccompanied.