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4 Older Women On Surviving Social Isolation

We interviewed and photographed women – from their front door – about coping with the threat of Covid-19


BY Anna Saunders

Even before coronavirus, many older people felt isolated. Now the elderly are being encouraged to remove themselves from the community completely.

So, what’s it like to be an older Australian and know the potential consequences of contracting coronavirus? To spend your days entirely alone?

In the UK, it’s been suggested that anyone over 70 should remain in isolation, even as the rest of us begin to venture out. In Australia, the debate is increasingly being framed as a balancing act between protecting the economy and protecting elderly lives.

But although there’s been a lot of discussion about older people, we very rarely hear from them in the media. (After all, few of them are on Twitter.)

We spoke to four women about how they’re handling social isolation and how coronavirus compares to the other challenges they have experienced in their lives.

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Maria Seretti PHOTO: Tim Jones

‘This is not the first hard time’

Maria Seretti, 85, lives alone in Sydney.

“I miss seeing my grandchildren. I miss going to the [RSL] club. But [since it closed] a girl from the club rang – twice. Once for an hour!

But I’ve been by myself all my life. My husband died 35 years ago, and my family have got their own lives.

In isolation, I’ve been cooking, making bread, pasta, making jam from figs from my fig tree.

And there have been many hard times before. I lost my mum when I was 16. I had a hard marriage. After my husband died, it was very hard with no money and four sons. My son had polio and 14 operations on his leg. This is not the first hard time.

But what about my grandchildren? I’m older, I won’t be here for long. What sort of life are they going to have? Because everything has changed – the money, the food we eat. I feel sorry for the grandchildren.”

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Brigitte Waters PHOTO: Tim Jones

‘I plan to go back to work’

Brigitte Waters, 71, lives with her husband and son

“It’s very strange not being able to do what you want. I’ve been getting a lot of advice from my family. They tell me, ‘Don’t go anywhere, stay home, we’ll do this, we’ll do that’. But I do go to Coles once a week. It’s very important to me because I know what I want to pick out! I don’t wear a mask. They don’t work.

I know that everyone’s trying to protect [the elderly] but I generally don’t think it would be a good idea to [keep older people socially isolated for longer]. It seems a bit unfair. I think that psychologically, people will start feeling as though they’ve been deprived of freedom.

But I put my trust in the experts. I’ll leave it to the experts.

I miss seeing the children and grandchildren, of course. It’s been lonely not being able to see them. We’re a very huggy family, we show a lot of emotion.

Not going to church is a big one for us. Before, we went two or three times a week. We’ve got Zoom, and there’s an online mass, with 26 families. But it’s not the same.

I also teach religion to Year 5. I’ve been doing that for 49 years now, and I plan to continue for as long as I’m able. I’m not worried about [coronavirus]. Our classes are only small and I’m usually up the front.”

 

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But Nguyen PHOTO: Tim Jones

‘This is not the first illness I’ve seen’

But Nguyen, 85, lives with her husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandson

“We feel okay. I do not need to go out. We try to get things done at home, like [watching news about Vietnam] on YouTube and knitting. I have seven children and I talk to my friends and my children on the phone. I’ve gone out twice – to the doctor and to the supermarket.

In Vietnam when I was younger there was a disease – like chicken pox. It killed a lot of people, including two of my younger brothers. I was very scared. But there weren’t government restrictions, like [with the coronavirus] today.

Does that experience affect how I approach coronavirus? Yes. When the government said that we old people have weakened immune system and that we should stay at home, we stay. We will do what the government says. If the government says we need to keep isolating, we will.”

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Evelyn Jones PHOTO: Tim Jones

‘I’m not afraid to die’

Evelyn Jones 88, lives with her daughter and son-in-law, and granddaughter

“I don’t mind the isolation. I’m quite happy. I don’t go out a lot as it is. I think the government’s done a good job, I really do.

I sit on the balcony and I watch people. There’s a lot more men around with little babies. There’s an old chap across the road. I watched a little girl yesterday in the park.

I miss seeing my friend every fortnight, and going to Eastgardens [mall] and having a cup of coffee and a doughnut. I really do miss that! When social isolation ends the first thing I’ll do is go to Eastgardens and have a coffee!

But I won’t wear a mask. I’m not afraid, and I’m not afraid to die. I’ve lived to be 88. The only thing I’m fearful of is falling over again.”

 

Photographs by Tim Jones