Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Learning To Live With Loneliness

Where has the world gone to
Since I reached the age of 65?
Where are the friends and followers
Who crowded around those early years;
Those few, a very few, too few, still alive?
I look back longingly at cold coals, the fire
That once burned in me with such joy and strife,
The lost moments and quiet folds of those dallying
Days when loafers and lovers lived along with me.
Now, in this deathly quiet of my lonely living room,
I am often alone, too often alone, too much alone, ever all alone.

When we age, we lose more than our youth. We lose our loved ones, our acquaintances, our connections with the world we once knew. As our social circles shrink, our tenuous grip on life and all it means to us is wizened and grayed along with the hair on our head and the skin droopingly covering our weakening hands and blurring face.

As our world becomes smaller, our remembered lives wither and fade as we lose our friends. In many recent surveys, about 22 percent of those surveyed were “emotionally lonely”, feeling alone, left out, lacking in close companionships.” Sixteen percent were “socially lonely”, feeling they had no one to talk to or turn to, that they didn’t really belong to any group. Another 19 percent were “isolated”, experiencing both social and emotional loneliness.

The result? We die sooner. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 14 of every 100,000 people age 65 and older died by suicide in 2004, a higher rate than the general population. In addition, depressed lonely seniors may be at risk of early mortality, literally dying of loneliness because life no longer holds meaning when there are no longer friends or loved ones to share it.

These studies also report “good news”: as many as 40 percent of seniors still feel “connected”, feeling neither socially nor emotionally lonely. These seniors found new friends, joined special interest groups as varied as bird watching, book clubs and square dancing.

They also volunteer to help the hundreds of non-profit social and educational organizations that enhance the communal good. These elder volunteers have recreated their lives, rejuvenating themselves by passing on their experience, wisdom and energy to the next generations. No matter how old, ill, or physically handicapped, senior volunteers can make great positive changes in their communities.

Start searching the local telephone books, newspapers, and social agencies to find a newjob, a new life, and a new career of helping others. Don’t “retire” yourself to a life of worthlessness and loneliness. Your neighbors need you. Your new yet unmet friends need you. A new, happier, richer life awaits you.