• Fri, 27, Mar, 2020 - 5:00:AM

A love letter to our elders

So here we are – in the middle of history.

It’s strange feeling history moan from under us, isn’t it? Knowing that the actions we take today, tomorrow – even those we took yesterday – will be stories we tell for the rest of our lives.

Even these premonitions of old age – casting our gaze into the untold distance, imagining the stories we’ll tell our grandchildren – feel wobbly. What will the earth be like by then? What will become of bees? Will we have grandchildren? What will it all mean?

I can’t answer those questions, but I’m acutely aware of what we have right now.

We have our elders. We have our histories. We have their stories and their lessons. And now is the time to listen to them.

I only ever knew my maternal grandparents, both of whom have passed away now. They immigrated from Holland in the 1950s (though my grandmother was British).

Dutch immigrants have been described as invisible. Writing about the Dutch, ‘like harnessing fog’. That’s because Dutch immigrants of the mid-twentieth century supposedly ‘blended into the scenery’. They abandoned their language and adopted the traits of their new land.

It’s not completely true. My grandfather remained heavily accented his entire life, spoke to his siblings in his mother-tongue, and stuffed his home with clogs, windmills, and blue and white crockery.

But he also refused to pass the language down, idolised The Warehouse, and served in Rotorua’s Police Force for over three decades.

The treasure trove of my grandparents’ stories didn’t spring forth from them, they were reluctant to share them. Instead, my history has been shared with me, drip by precarious drip, by my mother, my aunts, my uncles, and elderly friends who knew them.

COVID-19 is a daunting enemy. I’m in my twenties and I’m taking every precaution I need to slow its spread. But it’s even more daunting for our elders. According to the World Health Organisation, those aged 80 plus face mortality rates of 20 percent once they’ve contracted the disease.

The fate of our elders, therefore, lies in our hands. We must wrap our arms around our old people by NOT wrapping our arms around them. We must show them our love by maintaining our distance. We must physically distance ourselves – but we don’t have to remove ourselves from their lives. In fact, in this period of sustained isolation, it’s a good idea to reach out. Remember talking on the phone? Let’s start that up again.

It’s important to note, too, that while COVID-19 is harsher on the elderly, young people are not immune

We need to take this seriously.

I’ve joked that, once we come out of this whole thing, we’ll be much like elderly people ourselves. Without clothing shops around, we’ll take to darning our socks. We’ll pick up knitting, home cooking, planting a garden.

Perhaps the sewing machine in the back of the garage will be dusted off.

And perhaps that won’t be such a bad thing.

For accurate information regarding COVID-19, please see here.


  • COVID-19 /
  • Coronavirus /
  • Elders /
  • New Zealand /
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