Life On The Edge – Loneliness Taking Toll On 99-Year-Old North Street Resident
In just under two months, Mercilyne Iona Stephenson is looking forward to joining Jamaica’s list of centenarians. But the frail woman, born May 28, 1918, fears she may not make it because of the dire situation in which she has found herself.
Now, at the ripe old age of 99, the well-spoken Stephenson, a long-time resident of North Street, Kingston, said she is happy to be living but feels that if no help comes her way quickly, even living to be 100 would be no need for celebration.
Alone and without much help, Stephenson, who still has sharp eyesight but weakened hearing, lamented her situation.
“You see me here,” she said with a steady, yet quiet voice. “I am an old woman and I am a sick lady. I have seen whole heap of things and God keep me to this point, but look at my surroundings. I am worried now because I am alone. Not even the church business wid me anymore,” she told The Gleaner last week, with a look of dejection on her face.
“I moved here in 1961 and it is here I have been since, but is like I am abandoned. At nights, if a emergency a God alone me have fe call pon,” she said.
The run-down house that she calls home is without electricity or running water, and compounding her misery was the constant overflowing of a National Water Commission sewer main almost directly in front of the yard she occupies, that routinely dumps fecal matter on to the premises.
Since The Gleaner reported last week that the main was continuing to overflow despite recent rehabilitation work on the sewer system along North Street, Dr Horace Chang, minister with responsibility for water, has indicated that the Government was in the process of sourcing funding to continue the project which started last December.
So far, the Government has spent approximately $36 million on the rehabilitation work, which was supposed to correct the more than 10-year problem of raw sewage overflowing in the vicinity of St George’s College.
…Plan needed for Ms Mercilyne ‘before it’s too late’
A nearby resident has pointed to the devastating impact wastewater overflowing along North Street in Kingston has had on 99-year-old Mercilyne Iona Stephenson, among others, causing them to abandon use of the stand-alone communal bathroom and toilet at the back of the elderly woman’s home.
“We not so old as Ms Mercilyne, and we have it so bad here. Imagine what she faces every day. She could be all of us grandmother and this is what she must deal wid. It wicked, man,” said Marlon Straw.
His house, too, was being adversely affected, with the sewer water eroding the foundation leaving his back room almost detached from the rest of the house.
Although having all her wits about her, Stephenson pointed out that loneliness was taking its toll on her mind.
“I am alone most of the time. Every day, it’s just me. I have a few people who come around to help in whatever way they can but it is always just me alone here. Sometimes I want somebody to talk to and it nuh happen,” she said.
“Night and day is only God me can talk to. But I need people too,” Stephenson added.
Joan Bennett, one of two women who make it their almost daily duty to look in and assist their most senior neighbour, agrees that much help is needed.
Bennett wants the member of parliament for the Central Kingston constituency in which they live, Ronald Thwaites, to come up with a plan to help change Stephenson’s fortunes “before it’s too late”.
“She is strong, but even the strongest of us have a breaking point. How much more of this kinda life is she to take?” questioned Bennett.
“We can only do the little we have for her. But she needs to be in a better place, like one of those homes for the aged. On top of that, look at this place she living in. How can the MP know of her situation and do nothing?”
Yesterday, the church Ms Mercilyne once frequented, Coke Methodist, got her a space at the Sisters of Mercy, Place of Innocence.
Asked about the good news, Stephenson responded with a smile. “I am thankful. It’s never too late for good news.”
In her younger days, Stephenson worked as a domestic helper for years, and then took up vending, selling meat seasoning and other items to sustain herself. But with her best years behind her and failing health setting in, she had to leave the roadside and since then has been staying at home, with nothing to do but depend on the goodness of others.
Looking ahead, she said at least, she will be in a cleaner place, where she is sure to get more assistance.
Photo Credit: Norman Grindley/Chief Photo Editor – Gleaner
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