"One of the hardest issues for people is being deprived of essential relationships."

Faith in Older People (FiOP) supports the spiritual wellbeing of older people and those who care for them. For us, the spiritual dimension is defined as ‘that which gives meaning and purpose to our lives’ which can be derived from music, nature, relationship and faith. Lockdown has shown us how all these things matter to our lives in different measure and how we have perhaps come to appreciate them more and realise the central role they play in our lives.

We all cope in different ways with stress, trauma, sadness, loss, and bereavement. The pandemic has certainly highlighted this as people have come forward to volunteer to support their neighbours and local communities; health and social care staff have been amazing, and individuals have found the fortitude to cope with lockdown. Life has been extremely difficult for many people as they care for children, people with disabilities and those experiencing dementia in restricted circumstances. How people have coped has thrown into sharp relief the inequalities in our society which were present before and are now exacerbated. The ‘new norm’ must address this reality in practical terms in relation to our systems for health, social care, education, and opportunities. Going back to the ‘old norm’ must not be an option.

One of the hardest issues for people is being deprived of essential relationships. With friends, family, work colleagues all of whom provide us with a sense of belonging and place in the world. The enormous grief of those who have experienced the death of a loved family member or friend because of COVID-19 or other causes but have not been able to be with them in those last hours or to share a goodbye at a funeral or to be without a comforting presence afterwards. This makes a loss even more raw.

In these circumstances our health and social care staff have played a pivotal role in standing in for family but also experiencing losses, in some circumstances, many times over. This takes its toll as must the anxiety felt by these staff about transmitting the virus both into care settings and their own homes.

FiOP’s response to the pandemic has been to support those who care for us in our own homes, residential care and through our faith communities by establishing a free, online, confidential Listening and Caring Service (this link will take you away from our website) provided by experienced listeners so that carers have an opportunity to off-load their experience, feelings, anxieties in a safe place that is away from work and family. Our view is that such a service should exist to support staff in the long term as it takes time to come through the initial crisis and to feel that it is okay to talk about yourself.

The pandemic has woken up a focus on the spiritual aspects of our lives in relation to our physical, emotional, and psychological needs. We are all of it and we often talk about someone’s spirit in relationship to managing both the good things and difficult aspects of our lives. It is what keeps us going. But this spiritual focus is evident in the number of people turning to faith communities. Zoom enabled services have seen a huge increase in the number of people attending church services. What does this tell us? IT has provided a way of people accessing services easily to which there might have been a range of barriers – accessibility, transport, support, distance and so. Face to face is much needed but let us not lose sight of this benefit whilst also being conscious that digital access is not easy for everyone.

FiOP wants to continue to strengthen the recognition of the spiritual dimension to our wellbeing as we move forward. We want to create a bigger acknowledgement of spiritual care as an integral part of person-centred care. That even if you are not of faith yourself it is important to appreciate that it might be of great importance to the person for whom you care. Our mental wellbeing is bound up with our sense of identity and belonging and our interdependence on each other, which reminds me of one of my favourite sayings: “I am because we are” (from Ubuntu philosophy: “The belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”).

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