There was such a sad story in the paper earlier this week which someone shared on Facebook. A man of 98 and hie wife of 86 were found shot dead in their home in France. Early signs indicate it was a murder-suicide.
It's too early to speculate on the cause, but so often in such cases involving elderly people, there is an element of loneliness and isolation. There is often also an overwhelming feeling of panic at the prospect of one partner being left alone by the death of the other, or fear of separation when one has to go into a care environment without the other.
I'm very fortunate in that I never experience feelings of loneliness, despite having lived on my own for more than 30 years – as long as I have a dog or two for company. But for some people it can be truly crippling, especially if they have no immediate family to call on them or keep in regular contact, if only by phone.
A beautiful song by John Prine, Hello in There, puts it so well, with the chorus:
Ya' know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder ev'ry day.
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, "Hello in there, hello."
The last lines are particularly poignant and have an important message for us all:
So if you're walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes,
Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
As if you didn't care, say, "Hello in there, hello."
We're coming up to the loneliest time of the year for so many people who have no one. The festive season is always difficult for those who live alone, not from choice.
We're all very lucky to have the wonderful Oapschat website and Facebook group to drop into whenever we need someone to talk to. Of course many elderly people don't have internet access and may not be able to get out and about to have contact with others.
I live in a tiny hamlet where there are some elderly people living alone, although one goes to her other house lower down (we're at 1800' here) for the winter, which can be very challenging. I've not been the best of neighbours in the past in terms of saying a 'Hello in there.'
One of my dogs was extremely suspicious of everyone and made it very hard for me to stop and chat. Sadly he recently went to the Rainbow Bridge and although I miss him enormously, it has made life much easier in terms of socialising.
My beloved Fleur
Remaining dog Fleur loves everyone she meets unconditionally and is stunningly beautiful with eyes which looks as if they are carefully kohl lined in the best of Bollywood tradition. She is an instant hit with everyone she meets especially Mamy Giselle (Granny Giselle) who lives just down the hill and who has a grand-daughter who is also called Fleur.
Now whenever I walk about the hamlet, I always make a point of stopping to chat, especially with the older residents. They love seeing Fleur – I think she could do the rounds without me!
When I chose my current house, it was with the future in mind, getting older and living alone, with no close family to look after me. For that reason, although I prefer isolation, I chose a house which is a back to back semi so there is someone about if I have any problems.
And who would have thought that having a nosy neighbour could be such a good thing? Mine is insatiably inquisitive and some days I am so glad of that. On a recent day, she rang the ball on my gate when she got home from work to ask if all was well as she'd heard me drive off at 5am and wondered what was wrong.
It was actually the day I'd had to rush my dog to the vet, to no avail, as it turned out, but it was nice to think that someone actually was noticing such things and keeping a neighbourly eye on me
Part of the rural French culture is that everyone one says 'Bonjour' to everyone they see and it's a really nice feeling. I'm sure it helps enormously with feelings of isolation. It's a pity that it's sadly not the norm any more in many parts of Britain.
And now if you will excuse me, it's time for Fleur and me to take a turn around a hamlet and see if there are any of the older residents about to whom we can say 'Hello in there.'
Tottie Limejuice has written many books, including Sell The Pig travel series and her latest one Take Three Birds, co written with Jill Pennington, all of which can be purchased from Amazon