The first article I read was from The New York Times and followed the stories of several older people. One woman sends deliveries of pears to her neighbor across the way so that she will check to see that she opens her blinds (screen) every morning. That way, if she is in trouble or dies, someone will notice and call for the body to be taken away.
Then there was this one about elderly women stealing fruits, vegetables, meat and clothing (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-03-16/japan-s-prisons-are-a-haven-for-elderly-women or here https://longreads.com/2018/04/05/elderly-japanese-women-are-turning-to-crime-to-find-companionship-in-prison/). Many actually enjoy prison life more than life on the outside – they have people to chat with and work to do, whereas outside of prison, they are often alone and forgotten.
It may be tempting to think that it is not like this in other countries, including in the US. That would be a mistake. I’m sure there are many elderly people living lives of quiet desperation (to borrow from and paraphrase Thoreau) around the world. There is likely someone in my neighborhood who is alone and feeling as though life has passed them by. No one comes to visit. They cannot get out very easily. They fall through the cracks of a system that should protect them.
Of course, there are elderly Japanese people who are more engaged with families and friends, just as there are elderly people here who live active lives. But, with each passing year, people become more dependent on others to take the time out of their day to visit.
It’s easy to see how it happens. You miss a visit one week because something came up. Then it happens again … we live busy lives. Visits become monthly, then quarterly, then annually. Perhaps the older person is a bit cranky or doesn’t remember you. It becomes easier to avoid the visit altogether and easier to make excuses for why it’s not a big deal.
I remember when my grandmother was old and lived alone in the house in which she raised her children. I used to stop by sometimes as I rode my bike to visit friends. She was always there … rattling around in the house. We would sit on the porch and talk. By the time I went off to college, many of her other grandchildren were also away – moved to a new place to start their lives or were away at college. Fewer people who could just stop by to say hello. She was nearly blind when she had a stroke and died in her 90s.
It’s painful to think that some people just slip away from society. It’s hard to imagine the sadness experienced by someone who has essentially disappeared even though s/he continues to live next door to … someone. Thankfully, my mother is not experiencing that loneliness. She misses her friends and other family, but at least she is not alone.