I always read your column and feel I must write to you, hoping I feel better afterwards.
I am 83 and entirely alone since my husband died in January.
We have no children or family and the loneliness is slowly crushing me. I read not long ago that it’s not just cancer or heart disease that kill people, but loneliness, too – and it’s true.
So lonely: This week, Bel advises a childless elderly woman with no other family who is struggling to cope since the death of her husband
Where I live isn’t helping. After years on a council estate (which deteriorated into a ”˜sink’), we moved to a housing association bungalow last October. My husband loved it, though he only lived here for three months.
But I can’t get used to the quietness – no chatting over the fence, and people in nightclothes most of the day. Oh dear – I might be old, but I’m still alert and active.
I take the bus to town, walk the streets, read, enjoy light classical music, watch a little TV – but shutting the door and not speaking to anyone is grim.
After living with somebody for 60 years and looking after my husband full time at the end, being on my own seeking friends and acquaintances is not pleasant.
I’ve thought of volunteering, but 70 seems to be the cut-off age. (I’m more alert than some people that age!)
I don’t know if you will read this, but thank you for letting me ”˜talk’.
I get people asking me if I am all right and I say: ”˜Yes, thank you’, and go on my way; you can’t burden people with your troubles.
Anyway, the question is just a formality. A lady who never married and is in her 80s told me I should be enjoying my ”˜freedom’.
No way – give me somebody to look after.
Perhaps I am noticing it more now, but everybody seems to be in twos – in the streets, shops, cafes.
I try to live a day at a time and it gets me through, but at my age there isn’t much time left.
Old age isn’t pleasant, is it?
Not pleasant, perhaps – but inevitable. The test for every one of us is how we face up to the truth of our own mortality.
Nineteen years younger than you, I, too, have to resign myself to the fact that I can do little to halt the ageing process.
Yet you sound confident about your own liveliness – which is good.
I admire that pride which asserts, ”˜I might be old, but I’m still alert and active’.
But we’re considering loneliness, not age. They don’t necessarily go together.
Many young people are achingly lonely, noticing people in twos and wondering why they can’t find love.
Angelou also wrote a poem which contains the lines, ”˜Nobody, but nobody/ Can make it out here alone.’
Rescue homes always have older dogs and cats who desperately need loving homes, and I’m a passionate believer in the healing power of such animals
If she is right, it’s a frightening truth. For millions of people feel they have no option but to struggle on alone.
They do not choose solitude like the hermit, recluse or artist. The solitary state is forced on them.
Recently, I’ve come to see loneliness as a great modern taboo. In this world of frenetic communication, more and more people feel there is nobody who wants to communicate with them at a meaningful level.
Writing this column makes me realise how many problems – from bad marriages to a sense of life’s pointlessness – have sheer loneliness at their root.
But yours is very specific. You and your husband relied on each other, with no dependants and no family members to help.
Towards the end of his life, because of illness, you withdrew even more from the world – and now, stuck in the quiet neighbourhood, you have lost the habit of communication.
Bereaved only eight months ago, you are still in a state of grief – and perhaps shouldn’t expect too much of yourself.
”˜One day at a time’ is a simple, but useful, maxim for anyone enduring stress of whatever kind, at whatever age.
I’m not going to irritate you (possibly) with suggestions about starting a new activity, which do tend to be the stock-in-trade of advice columnists, simply because they so often work.
Nevertheless, you do have to re-learn the art of involvement. When people ask how you are, it might be better not to reply that you’re fine and ”˜go on your way’.
Why not make a tea party? Put an invitation (you can buy ‘At Home’ cards in W.H.Smith) through all the nearby doors, even if you don’t know their names
Next time, try to ask a question back. Or comment on something in the immediate environment.
You could give yourself a daily goal – where you have to ask at least one other person a question or make a pleasant comment.
Telling a young woman in a shop that her hair looks pretty can make you feel really rather good. Remember – once a day.
Are there any housing association rules about pets? If not, I think having another living creature to share your life might give you a boost. You don’t mention that you have one, which is why I assume not.
Rescue homes always have older dogs and cats who desperately need loving homes, and I’m a passionate believer in the healing power of such animals.
Imagine having a little old dog to walk each day. My father always finds that when he takes my Maltese, Bonnie, to the park, he strikes up conversations with all sorts of people who stop to pet her. He loves it!
Or imagine the comfort of having a cat on your lap while you watch TV or listen to the radio. Beloved pets are always so pleased to see you, and that’s a great therapy. You like looking after others, after all.
Which leads to the next point. It’s time to interact with your neighbours. It sounds as though you are in an enclave of elderly people, in which case you might find there is somebody nearby who would dearly love some friendship and the benefit of your nurturing skills.
You’ve had no time to get to know anybody – since you were caring for your husband, then coping with his death.
I suggest you give a tea party to mark the first anniversary of your moving there. Put an invitation (you can buy ”˜At Home’ cards in W.H.Smith) through all the nearby doors, even if you don’t know their names.
Make sure they RSVP, so you know numbers – and if you invite them for 5pm, tea and cake could easily merge into a drink if you lay on some wine.
Go on, I dare you.
One of my favourite Bette Midler songs is called ‘Hello In There] and contains these lines: ”˜You know that old trees just grow stronger/ And old rivers grow wilder every day/ But old people, they just grow lonesome/ Waiting for someone to say – Hello In there, hello.’
Your letter epitomises the truth of that lyric.
But I want you to consider this: just as you want the world to see you properly as a human being and say ”˜Hello’ – so equally there are people around you who would like you to say it to them.
You’re a strong woman, Hilda, so refuse to be crushed.