Loneliness

There was a sad, yet heartwarming story that came out of Rome yesterday. Police responded to a call after someone reported crying and shouting coming from an apartment. When police arrived they were met by a couple, Jole who is 84 and her husband Michele who is 94. They have been married for 70 years.
The couple was not upset because a crime had been committed, but because they were overcome by loneliness and the depressing news they had been watching on television. Apparently they had not been visited by anyone in a while since much of the city empties out during the summer months and neighbors were on holiday.
In an attempt to make them feel better, the police stayed with them, cooked them a simple spaghetti meal and spent the evening listening to stories of their lives.

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Loneliness affects millions of people, especially the elderly who are homebound and unable to participate in society the way they once did. A recent study claims that while only 18% of the elderly live alone, 43% felt lonely. That’s a difficult statistic to read.
Whether someone has lost a spouse or has grown old together, the way this Italian couple has, advanced age can take a toll on your life, even if you are relatively healthy. We all know people in the 80’s and 90’s who remain very active but the majority of those who have lived that long have lost most, if not all of their friends, and what remains is a time in their lives that most people don’t remember.

While age alone does not corner the market on loneliness, there is an isolation for many older people which doesn’t offer them an opportunity to alter their lives. Phone calls and visits certainly help but much of their day involves little or no human contact. The difficult truth or realization for many is that life has moved on without them. They are no longer part of a working society, have given up their cars, and rarely leave their homes except for medical visits. The independence of living alone that many elderly people prefer to have, comes with a cost that most of us can’t imagine or prefer not to think about. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. What they know and see is confined to the walls of the rooms that surround them and like this couple in Italy, those walls seem to get closer each day.

We celebrate age with parties and photos in the newspapers of people who have turned 90 or 100 and it is quite an accomplishment. The experts tell us that advances in the field of medicine will allow people to live longer. But there is a difference between living and being alive. All of these people were alive once. They lived active and full lives; had families, jobs, hobbies, and were most likely surrounded by people on a daily basis. I don’t think they ever thought about loneliness.

We all know people like Jole and Michele. Sometimes we see them out somewhere or sitting on a porch or at a window, watching life go by as we pass. Sometimes a wave turns into a smile, sometimes a smile into voice.

At the end of the day, we all need to believe that our lives have a voice.

 

54 thoughts on “Loneliness

  1. edgar62

    Sometimes it can be difficult. We have an elderly gentleman at church who complained that no one called him and no one visits him. Well, we tried to call him but he wont answer the phone – we tried to visit him but he just wont answer the door. So where do we go from here? It’s hard to reach out if no one will reach back. When he does come to church, he is never alone and people, including me, sit and chat with him. I have even told him I will call, but it makes no difference.

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    1. George Post author

      It does happen sometimes and I often wonder if there is something else going on with them that we’re not aware of. The only thing you can do is keep trying. There are many others who will appreciate your efforts.

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  2. Lone Grey Squirrel

    Thanks for this post and its important message. My own parents lived with me until they passed on but I do look back with regret that I did not do more to deal with the loneliness issue especially for my mum who lived on for a few years after my dad passed away. I would encourage everyone to do that bit more for the elderly while we still have the opportunity to show love.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you. I think we all have some regrets at times. We often think we could have or should have done more. They lived with you for some time. That’s more than many people experience. Don’t look back..:)

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  3. DailyMusings

    Beautifully written about a topic we easily forget. Human contact is so important and easily taken for granted for those who have it everyday. An important reminder. Heartwarming how those policemen reacted.

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  4. Jodi

    Thank you for sharing George. Thank you for calling our attention to good that these police did amidst all the negative we hear about them lately. And thanks for the reminder to reach out to those who are lonely. We have the power with such a simple gesture to make a huge impact. ❤️

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Jodi. You’re right, we have such an opportunity each day of our lives to make someone else smile or feel special. Especially for those who may have little to smile about each day.

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  5. Kate Crimmins

    When we are young we have so much we want to do. We are too busy for the elders. Then we are the elders and the young ones are too busy for us. It’s too bad that we don’t have more insight when we are young. Multi-generational family homes can be a challenge but in the end they may also be more rewarding.

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  6. vanbytheriver

    A lovely piece of writing, George, and it rings so true. The older members of my family used to buy the local paper, and each day, read the obits of folks they knew and loved in a small town environment. I can’t imagine how they must have felt, even if family was still present in their life. An important reminder to take the time to smile, engage in a simple conversation. It is just the right thing to do, and so appreciated. 💘

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Van. I know older people read the obits and I always wondered why but now I understand. It must be difficult seeing your friends and pieces of your life removed little by little. A little smile or wave goes a long way..:)

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  7. oldmainer

    You are spot on with this George. Bravo. I am getting of “an age” where my circle of friends is declining and my social circles are getting smaller. I see and experience the loneliness every week in the eyes of those at the nursing home. A moment of recognition can be a magical thing. A smile becomes a rainbow. Time and attention can be precious things. I have come to hold elders in the same regard as I do veterans. They have given of themselves over a lifetime and through their efforts, something is better today then it was yesterday. Let’s not just throw them away.

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    1. George Post author

      Beautifully written. You are so right and comparing veterans and the elderly as having given so much of their lives for the betterment of others is a great analogy. Thank you for your comments.

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  8. Ann Coleman

    What a good reminder to make sure we stay in touch with the elderly. You are right on target, and I see this with my own mother and her friends. They are alone far too often, and have the sense that they are no longer fully living, and that’s a shame. We can, and should, do better. And bless those police officers who took the time to help!

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  9. Ilona Elliott

    Thank you George for sharing Jole and Michels’ story and your thoughts on it with us. I used to chat with an older gentleman in the grocery store who was always there with a cart containing nothing but a couple of canned goods. He was there to make human contact with people, not to shop. These days, with the twenty four hour news cycle, anyone who is home bound is likely to become overwhelmed with the bad news. A little human interaction can mean so much to the lonely. Thanks for reminding me of this. I plan to reblog this on my blog George. It’s a treasure.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you, Ilona. I think there a lot of people like the older gentleman you see who gets out not for necessity but simply for human contact. He is one of the fortunate ones who have that ability to get out on occasion. Thank you again.

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  10. jan

    Such a lovely story – my mother is in a retirement community – plenty of people around who seem friendly but she still likes to get her daily call (I live 4 hours away).

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  11. Kim Gorman

    This is a beautiful and compassionate post that is important for us to read. A few years ago, the old man who lived across the street from us killed himself with a shotgun on the front lawn of his house, we think so someone would find him. No one ever visited him and we learned afterward that his lady friend who lived in a nursing home had recently passed. We were shocked to read in the obituary that he had five children. We literally never saw anyone visit him. We wondered if maybe he was a terrible father and his kids hated him. He was rather ornery and mean. But we also felt so sad that he’d felt so hopeless and alone as to take his own life, and guilty that we hadn’t made more effort to befriend him.

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    1. George Post author

      How sad is that story. Unfortunately, I think there are too many people like your neighbor who live in complete isolation and depression. I often wonder what the stories are of people like him and others. What their lives were like and how they got to that point. I fear the stories may sometimes be as sad as their endings. Thank you, Kim.

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  12. Helen Devries

    Mother has visitors every day…but occasionally when I ring her – every day, communications permitting – she says that her voice feels hoarse, as she hasn’t had anyone to talk to for a few hours. She is a sports fanatic, so has something to occupy her…but few of her friends share her hobby so she has no one to natter to about who has done what…except me when I call.
    I thought that those two policemen were real sweeties…

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  13. Nurse Kelly

    The story you shared was heartbreaking. Thank you for such a compassionate post and your efforts to bring attention to this. It really is a huge issue and just like mental health, more resources (people) need to be dedicated to making a difference.

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  14. In My Cluttered Attic

    I suppose some of these folks might want to be left alone, but I’d be willing to bet many would love the chance to share what they’ve seen in their lifetime. And their life experience may offer some excellent advise that could benefit someone who takes the time to chat with them. I know my dad (after mom died) dreaded the holidays—not because we kids showed up, but having helped raise four boy’s, who would have blamed him—but because after we would leave, he never knew if that would be the last time he’d see us. Age can be so cruel. Nice reminder to us all, George.

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  15. Bun Karyudo

    This is such a terrible problem and one that looks likely to get worse in the future. I’m not sure what the long-term answer is, but clearly things are not working as they are. 😦

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  16. elkelorraine

    Thank you George for this article. Thank you for this eye opener. Thank you for the reminder. I think about getting old all the time. It doesn’t consume me, but it always keeps me thinking. But in the process I may have forgotten the opportunity I have to help a fellow being.

    You state above….” there is a difference between living and being alive. All of these people were alive once. They lived active and full lives;”.

    I have sat only twice at my neighbors kitchen table to chat it up with him. You see…he’s 84 years old. He just lost his partner in life last year. He now has a home attendant. And I have ONLY visited him twice. In those two visits I learned about the exciting life he lived. His travels. How educated and cultured he is. And yet, I have ONLY visited twice. Shame on me. Thank you again for the reminder. I will be going out of my way to visit him on a weekly basis.

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    1. George Post author

      Thank you. We all see the elderly as just that..old. We can’t imagine they were as your neighbor was once…active and vibrant. When we’re young we never think about getting old or what life is like for the elderly. Then we find ourselves in that same situation in the blink of an eye and wonder where everyone went and how life has moved on without us. Say hello to your neighbor for me..:) in sure he has some very interesting and entertaining stories.

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  17. Fourth Generation Farmgirl

    Thank you for sharing this important post, George. It only takes a few minutes to show an interest in someone, to reach out, and recognize someone’s humanity. Loneliness is a terrible thing. I hope this post inspires your readers to spend time with someone they know who would appreciate a little attention.

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  18. reocochran

    I am always happy to talk to my combination of neighbors, but it does take time. Something we seem to never have enough of! I have adults with special needs, college students and elderly people living side by side in my apt building.
    My Mom lived for 12 years independently after my Dad died, but on the edge of a cliff with Lake Erie as their back yard. I was so glad when we finally were able to talk her into a less harsh environment and move her into a senior apt across the street from my brother and SIL.
    She made friends and does fairly well for 87, but interestingly enough, my brother with Susan moved into a ranch home in a neighborhood recently. They asked Mom to check out their mother in law suite. Told her she would have plenty of extra spending money from her own retirement funds if she lived there. She declined and said, “But I would be lonely!” She can now never complain. Ha ha! 🙂

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    1. George Post author

      Time is always a reason for much of what we do, or don’t do. Older people are comfortable with their routines and, like your mom, would prefer not to deviate..:)
      Thank you for reading.

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  19. candidkay

    Oh, I wish we could learn taking care of our own. I am lucky enough to be one of six sisters. We tended to our parents as they got older. In situations where the numbers don’t work that way, we still need to reach out. Loneliness is the easiest problem to solve, right? I love you bringing this story to our attention!

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    1. George Post author

      Loneliness should be one of the easiest problems to solve because it takes very little effort and doesn’t cost a cent. But while other countries revere the elderly we have a tendency to push them aside with age. We don’t have the time.
      Your parents were very lucky. Thanks, Kay.

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