Britain has a minister for loneliness; Ben Sasse; US Senator from Nebraska just came out with a book about this subject – just how serious is that problem?
My own perspective–over the years I have done quite a bit of social work in different countries which included working with seniors. That was quite a few years ago–over 30 years ago. And of course that was a big problem then and today it is far more severe. Because it happens on many more levels.
When our four kids were growing up (they were all born and raised in Miami)–we as parents were very busy and involved in their lives as long as it involved school and any extracurricular activities. At the same time we were building our business It was a great time!
Then once our kids left high school one by one and went on to either college or other endeavors–our community dissolved and we lost contact with all these parents. I felt lonely! Our kids also struggled with that loneliness and trying to find their place in the world.
Then almost at the same time around in 2003 both my husband and I lost our positions in our business we helped build for over 25 years. It was a very difficult time. I never imagined we would encounter these challenges all at once. But we survived–I don’t know how–but somehow we did survive.
Now in our retirement–I see many reports from different countries how people around my age suffer from loneliness–even if they have kids–they have busy lives and many are living in different cities. Most people simply feel they are not needed any longer and have no real purpose for living.
Through the years as I went through these various stages myself I have often wondered myself how I would be able to cope with this phase in my life.
I have to admit I was scared. But now I know that loneliness no matter what the circumstances can be overcome. The first step is–how do I feel about myself–what perspective do I choose? I meet many people who express regret, sadness about that –somehow they have missed out on something important. Their life did not turn out as planned etc. It is easy to focus on the “what isn’t” and forget about the many great things we have experienced in our lives. But these great memories tend to get drowned out by the “what ifs”.
I still have to be very careful not to allow myself get sucked into the “I should have, could have” and worse yet start comparing my life to other people’s lives. There is a huge danger in doing that. On my best days I truly feel I am the richest woman on earth–thinking of all I have experienced in my life — and on my worst days exactly the opposite. And it all depends on my perspective.
Over the years I have seen when I talked to people and really listened to them–they tend to come alive and realize that actually they had a great life and began to appreciate that fact. They felt grateful, excited and see their life and the present in a different light! Once that happened they naturally became more social and created new friendships–with that they found new meaning in their lives.
It is a pity that so many arrive at that stage in life with regrets because so many of their expectations were not met! But this is life. We have to accept and appreciate life as it comes. I am not talking about being passive here at all. Yes we make plans and strife to fulfill our goals. But who could have foreseen all the interruptions in almost every industry due to the arrival of the internet? Everything in our lives was turned upside down.
On a societal level Ben Sasses talks about the same as he grew up–the sense of community and belonging. It almost completely disappeared. What can be done to recover that? We can’t go back and try to recreate our past, no matter how much we long to do that.
I went through a lot of pain myself trying to hold on to the past. But I determined that I would challenge myself and find a new purpose for my life and be ready for new adventures. I keep my fond memories and enjoy thinking about them–I have a mental treasure chest for them and from time to time I go through them. It brings me a lot of joy; but I no longer hang on to them leave them in the past–to make room for a new life! It feels great to have that sense of excitement again and look forward to each day and not focus too much on aches and pains that come with aging!
Maria De La Rosa