Alone Versus Loneliness: My Personal Story
By Marilyn Fredricks, RN, BS
I was born a twin. At 18, I went to college and had roommates. At 21, just before graduating, I met my husband. We were married 49 years until his death. This left me alone.
Having spent 71 years inhabiting with someone, I found myself alone. I thought I would be afraid, especially at night. Not really. I secured my home with cameras, changed the locks, and got a book and slept well. I handled the daily chores. For the last 30 years, I had handled our business and financial responsibilities. Therefore, financial insecurity wasn't a concern. If being alone and finances and budgeting is a challenge, I suggest a financial advisor.
It's been three years. The first time I really felt alone was when I became ill. I had to be hospitalized three times. My daughters have families, so they couldn't be there 24-7.
Between home health services and hiring a helper, I solved the problem of being ill and alone, and not being able to drive. I also subscribed to a satellite health alert system. I felt secure. But I still needed something to look forward to. After my husband passed, a friend suggested a trip to Greece. Yikes. I would have to fly to and from Athens, Greece, by myself. Well, I'd flown to and from the U.S. Virgin Islands many times alone. What would be a few more hours! I met friends and a tour group when I landed. For months before the trip, when I felt sad or alone, I would watch videos on Greece. YouTube is a wonderful source for travel site information.
On my return, I was given a voucher to sleep and eat at a hotel. The maitre d' sat me at a table for one. First time in my 71 years I had ever been one.
I went to the room and cried and cried. I did not want to be one! I read an article and took some hints for when this situation should occur again: Tell the waiter you may be expecting someone, look for someone sitting alone and ask if you can join them, or sit at the bar.
Humans are social creatures. There is a need for a social network. Isolation, recently imposed on us by COVID-19, can affect both mental and physical health. Studies show this can result in serious health conditions, such as depression, malnutrition, and change in blood pressure. It is important to keep doctor appointments or call health professionals if you experience changes in your health status.
Some of my Solutions to Combat Loneliness:
- Get a pet: If you have the space and the ability to care for one, get a companion animal. Often, caring for or tending to a dog or cat can be helpful.
- Hobbies: I took up sewing again. I can walk away and come back for short intervals. I also do wood projects in my garage. Scrapbook, or arrange photos in an album.
- Change your routine: Get up earlier, go for a walk.
- Be in nature: Go camping when weather allows, visit parks, listen for nature sounds. Start seeds or plant flower starts. Gardening is gratifying, getting into the dirt and the satisfaction of seeing a seed flourish to a flower.
- Spruce up a room: Paint or rearrange the wall decor. Clean closets and drawers.
- Focus on yourself: Try writing a journal, an autobiography, or short stories of your family life.
Facing Aloneness During the Holidays
My husband passed at the end of November. Hospice asked me about holiday plans. I was so sad, I told them I was going to skip them. But, the grandkids were planning on coming to grandmother’s Christmas Eve, and my home is log, and has a fireplace; it's called the “Christmas house."
How do you cope and plan for a happy event when your heart is so sad and the loved one that was a big part of “the traditions” is no longer with you?
Let the other family members plan the food, activities, and decorations. Get online and order Christmas gifts. Throw a bow and a name on each box. The whole dinner can be pre-ordered at a grocery store. Get a jar and have everyone put a memory of the departed family member in the “Memory bottle” to be read next year. Go spend the night with a family member, so you won’t be alone Christmas morning. If this isn’t possible, sleep on the couch under the tree. Drive around and look at Christmas lights. Changes are hard, but life goes on, and Christmas is just one day.
Now, here is what happened Christmas eve at my house. One daughter brought a “Charlie Brown Tree." It was a little skinny, poor excuse for a tree! It was tied to a curtain rod for stability and sparsely decorated. One daughter brought Japanese lanterns, and after dinner, seven of us got into a van and drove to Discovery Park. There were 3 inches of snow and it was snowing and blowing. Lanterns were lit. They did not go straight up into the heavens. They blew right toward and into a stand of dry trees. The group all dashed, galloped, and plowed, and slipped through the snow to keep from having the fire department called. Laughing, we reminisced how our departed one would have been yelping at the fire danger we were imposing. The sadness was replaced by a snowy, funny lasting memory.
In conclusion, no one can get you out of the hole of loneliness. Take baby steps; make a commitment, like sewing masks or volunteering in other ways. Call a friend. They may need to hear a friendly voice, too. You will feel needed and have purpose, and happily climb out of the hole of lonely.
Marilyn Fredricks is a retired nurse with education in mental health and experience in caring for and supporting seniors.