Locking down their faith: Four senior citizens explore spirituality during isolation

14 JANUARY 2022

Locking down their faith: Four senior citizens explore spirituality during isolation

Four senior citizens and Charles Sturt academics have chronicled how their time in multiple COVID-19 lockdowns and isolations have restored their faiths.

Seniors in isolation have contributed to Charles Sturt University research that is helping an ageing population navigate the complexities of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions.

By Senior Lecturers in Social Work Dr Monica Short (pictured, inset) and Dr Sabine Wardle; Adjunct Lecturer in social work, child and adolescent welfare and social sciences/human services Dr Lynelle Osburn; Charles Sturt alumni Mrs Giselle Burningham; and colleagues Mrs Jenny Wright and Reverend Dr Ed Byford - all affiliated with Charles Sturt University School of Social Work and Arts,.

What will 2022 hold for us all, and will our seniors have to isolate - again? The Omicron variant of COVID-19 has invaded 2022 and older people, some living with disabilities, have started 2022 with the labels ‘vulnerable’ or ‘at risk’. A subset of this group chose to self-isolate during the holiday period. People are wishing to avoid unintentionally spreading COVID-19 to their family or friends. Consequently, these school holidays have become a very quiet and lonely time for many.

Recent senior citizens-directed research considered the spiritual impact of isolation on people aged over 60 years. In this article, four seniors narrate how their faith, routine and rituals are bringing them calm, building resilience and helping them cope with the dynamism of living in isolation.

All four people were unprepared for social isolation: before the lockdowns, each had a full and busy life.

Mrs Giselle Burningham lives on a property in rural Tasmania with her husband. She lives with disabilities and uses a wheelchair. Giselle is a retired social worker, published author and disability advocate.

The Reverend Dr Ed Byford and Dr Lynelle Osburn are married, are kin carers and live on a property in rural Victoria, where they rent out holiday cabins. Ed is a retired Anglican minister and Lynelle is a semi-retired social work academic.

Mrs Jenny Wright lives with severe osteoporosis and is a retired chaplain and marriage celebrant. Jenny volunteers as a reader, programmer and interviewer at radio 1RPH for people with print disabilities.

All four have had extensive experiences of social isolation.

Many researchers investigating issues associated with ageing acknowledge that religion and spirituality can be important for seniors. Much of the recent research about ageing during the current pandemic is written by people under 65 years and focuses on providing helpful advice to seniors on how to navigate the pandemic.

What is unique about this project is the seniors themselves are the researchers and they are instructing the younger researchers. In our research, they wrote a stream of consciousness about their experience of lockdown, focusing on the phenomena of ageing, faith and isolation within their own cultural and religious context. Eight months later, the streams of consciousness describing a moment in isolation were revisited. Each of the four stories came together, narrating an overarching story.

COVID-19 made Giselle scared and isolated. Her faith in God through Jesus brought her peace during her one lockdown. Her faith became deeper. Lynelle’s faith and connection with online faith communities were an enormous gift to her during the seven lockdowns she experienced. For Ed, the seven lockdowns were hard and long. Wrapping his routine in prayers, guided by his Anglican prayer book and reading and reflecting on Bible passages, sustained and inspired him. Jenny thanks God for never leaving or forsaking her during the pandemic. Jenny, who experienced two lockdowns, had recently reviewed her life, reflecting on what it was like before she became a Christian in her 50s and afterwards. She can see how God has always been there for her.

The research highlights that the lives of all four seniors have not stayed static during COVID-19. In reviewing their streams of consciousness, all four recognised that they had developed new skills and abilities.

Giselle started the first online branch of the Country Women’s Association in Tasmania and has connected with a local church. Lynelle and Ed have become more confident in home-schooling. Jenny had a double knee operation, attended rehabilitation, and has become skilled in recording radio programs remotely. Their faith is giving them the confidence to learn new skills and is building their resilience in challenging situations.

The pandemic is tough on our four- and everyone. However, our seniors can help us navigate the current uncertain times. Isolation is one strategy that is keeping some people safe. For these four, isolation is also promoting inner reflection, building their Christian faith and encouraging them to surrender to God. Much has changed for these four because of COVID-19, but their faith remains constant and is growing.

Media Note:

To arrange interviews with Dr Monica Short, contact Nicole Barlow at Charles Sturt Media on 0429 217 026 or news@csu.edu.au

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