The elderly are not burden; they’re treasures

The Barbadian society has traditionally treasured the institution of the family.

Be it the nuclear, extended or single parent household, members of any unit were taught to love, respect and support one another.

Honouring thy father and thy mother, biological or not, was a welcomed duty and not a mere fancy. However, like other good old Bajan values, caring for parents, especially in their twilight years when they need it most, is fast becoming the exception rather than the norm.

Shameful evidence of this surfaced on Tuesday when 88-year-old Edmunda Gittens painfully admitted that she had nowhere to go after being evicted, at the order of the court, from the property she has called home for the last eight decades.

“I don’t know where I am going to go because I ain’t got nowhere and I would be glad for somewhere,” she tearfully admitted to this media house.

The situation was troubling but anxiety quickly gave way to outrage as it was revealed that Gittens is the mother of seven children, six of whom have families and homes of their own.

While we do not know her children’s circumstances – a daughter who was present would not say why none of them would take in thier mother – we are inclined to ask, where have respect and compassion for parents gone, especially those who are elderly?

It is a sad reality and an appalling indictment on an increasingly selfish society. Too many dismiss their elderly parents without a second thought about their sacrifices, their achievements and the contributions they
have made.

Chairman of the National Assistance Board (NAB) David Durant rightfully suggested that Gittens’ children should have intervened sooner to prevent the indignity which befell their mother. It was not the duty of the Government.

“I wished families would become first responders when their elderly [relatives] are in these unfortunate situations. I think the sons and daughters should really come on board and do whatever they can to help a mother,” he said.

Of course, we are not unaware of the fact that the neglect that some parents experience from their children has its genesis in the parents’ failure to contribute to their children’s upbringing. However, two wrongs simply cannot make a right.

In the words of Dr Martin Luther King, “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us…”

Hardly anything is unforgivable. As with any problem, it starts with making the effort to understand the root cause and to come up with effective solutions.

The fact is, the moral strength of any society can be measured by the quality of care it gives to children and the elderly.

Barbados has an aging society and an ever-growing population of centenarians we celebrate almost weekly.

The elderly, like our youngest people, are our most precious and vulnerable citizens. It reflects poorly on us all when they are mistreated. Our duty is to look after and cherish them.

Thankfully, Ms Gittens is adjusting to temporary new accommodation even as the NAB takes action to construct a new home for her. This quick response must be applauded.

Now is as good a time as any to address the neglect of the elderly. Government agencies responsible for their care, churches and other civil society groups should make a greater effort to counsel families and sensitize communities.

Barbados can do better. It must do better.

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