Dying alone must have been a horrible phenomenon at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines. The majority of those who died were older persons because they had comorbidities and were at high risk of viral infection.
Researcher Dr. Albert Albina of the Negros Oriental State University, Bayawan-Sta. Catalina Campus described dying alone during the pandemic as “death without goodbyes”. They died without their significant others around and were denied a dignified burial according to traditions due to restrictions on large gatherings.
In normal times, it is more dreadful hearing about aging parents dying without their children or relatives attending to them. But it may be a rare case among Filipinos unlike the hikikomori in Japan, which now also includes a growing number of older people who lived in isolation for years and died alone (https://www.japanpolicyforum.jp/society/pt201907221700489609.html).
It may be not alarming yet but this could be the fear of some aging Filipino parents whose married children live away from them. More so, those who do not have quality communication with their children or those who were sent to reception facilities for older people must have silently felt abandoned. This could be the reason why former Sen. Panfilo Lacson filed a bill in 2016 to penalize children who abandon their aging parents. But this did not become a law.
Although not considered a medical problem, empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness of aging parents when their grown-up children leave home. The children either got married and established their own families or they just wanted to live independently being already economically stable. The latter either preferred being single and enjoying it for various reasons. Or they are already dating someone and just waiting for the right time to settle down.
An empty nest or dissolving family in the life stages has normally passed through that process where parents and children are living together in one abode. It could be a small or big happy family depending on social class and location. But we would hear some parents saying that having several children is not a guarantee to having them during old age. It would always be the husband and wife who stay together unless one went ahead to the next life or they separated ways early on.
Thus, having an empty nest is psychologically and sociologically difficult for aging parents with children already living separately or away from them. These aging parents are referred to as empty-nest elderly. But the mothers typically suffer more from the empty nest syndrome being the primary nurturer of growing children. They also often outlived their husbands.
The 2019 national survey on aging in the Philippines (https://www.eria.org/publications/ageing-and-health-in-the-philippines/) reported that females interviewed, on average, are two years older than the males and most were widowed (56 percent).
The survey also shows that loneliness is relatively uncommon among older Filipinos. About 75 percent admitted that they rarely or never felt a lack of companionship. Only the remaining 25 percent experienced social isolation but were variable in degree. Familism remains a value to many but maybe already diminishing in some highly urbanized cities.
How do aging parents cope with an empty nest?
Physical contact was still common, either they visited (60 percent) or were visited (74 percent) by their non-co-resident children. Married children also maintained communication with them through various forms of media like letters, phone calls, text messages, and chat through Messenger or Facebook. This implies that emotional support through visits and communication outweighed the material or physical support that these children had shown to their parents.
So, how would I cope empty nest whenever it will come? I have to continue teaching research when requested but on my most convenient schedule, keep on writing for scholarly journals and this column space here in the MetroPost to popularize research results, pursue my interest in the visual arts, engage in home gardening, volunteer in community works where I am still relevant, visit places I missed during my work travels, and play with my grandchildren whenever I have and would still be able.
In other words, I have to keep myself physically fit, mentally sharp, and socially relevant to address the inevitable empty nest.
Author’s email: [email protected]