Life is a gift. To let loneliness take the shine off it at any stage is a crime we should all try to avoid committing
Arriving home recently after a wonderful afternoon with my little grandson, Felix, I flopped into my armchair feeling tired and happy.
But the longer I remained seated, the more the stillness of my empty home began to eat into my contentment. I felt a deep pang for the one person who would have relished reliving every moment of the outing with me – my late husband, Harry.
Harry died just over a year ago, after we had spent more than half a century together. Now, instead of musing with him about my day out, I could speak only into the ether.
“Felix was a joy, as always,” I said out loud. Just 20 months old, he had joined my son, Charlie, his wife, Rachael, and me at a fancy restaurant for a Sunday lunch so leisurely it had lasted three hours.
Felix spent the whole time sitting patiently in his high chair, eating his food with a beaming smile on his face as he amused us with his excited baby babble.
Now, I longed to indulge in some proud grandma boasting with someone who would share my delight that the child who had charmed every diner in that restaurant had our blood coursing through his veins.
Like an amputee who has lost an arm but can still feel the limb, I always have a sense of him being nearby
I miss my husband, the journalist and author Harry Scott Gibbons, terribly.
However much I feel that his spirit remains close, there’s only so much you can say out loud in an empty room before you start to question your own sanity.
Oh dear, how lonely I must sound. And certainly, on paper, I should be.
After all, I’m old – I turn 82 this year – I’m bereaved and I live alone. That puts me at the very core of the nine million adults in the UK affected by loneliness, according to recent studies.
Instead of indulging my sadness, I focus on how good it feels to be with my family
Then I pulled out a much-loved book from some favourites on a nearby shelf and immersed myself in its pages.
At once, solitude became precious time to ponder – in a positive way.
Thank goodness I’m able to do that: to turn loneliness on its head and refuse to let it drag me down. It’s a skill that ensures my life continues to feel rich and full of meaning, no matter how much of it I now spend alone.
Thank goodness I’m able to do that: to turn loneliness on its head and refuse to let it drag me down
I refuse to succumb to the stereotype of the lonely old lady
You see, I refuse to succumb to the stereotype of the lonely old lady. Why should I, when I have only to think back over my rich and fulfilling life to realise that I don’t feel any different now to how I did back then?
Nothing’s changed. The woman I was when the picture printed at the top of this page was taken – in my 20s – is still inside me. I look older now, but I don’t feel I’m less of a person.
Of course, I have to accept that I have a seat in God’s Waiting Room. Like the actress Sheila Hancock, I have picked out a nursing home for when the time comes. Like Sheila, I wouldn’t want to inflict all that on anyone other than a professional.
I want to maintain my dignity; to be seen by my loved ones always as the person I am, rather than a needy creature who can’t help but be a burden to them.
When I do check in to a home – and I’m hoping that’s still many years away – I’ll have company to look forward to among my fellow residents.
But whatever our circumstances, I believe firmly that we all have the power within us to overcome our loneliness. And with experts believing that feeling lonely can be as bad for your health as heavy smoking, I think we would all be physically, as well as emotionally, better off for it.
I’m lucky that I still have family and friends around to whom I can talk every day. My career as a crime fiction writer shows no sign of waning, so I’m also professionally fulfilled.
But my son and his wife are busy people. Charlie’s a computer programmer and Rachael’s a business therapist, they live some distance from me and are juggling their careers and a young family, as Harry and I once did. It’s a struggle to get together more than every month or so.
Loneliness could easily loom large in my day-to-day life
Meanwhile, as a widow I must now live, eat and sleep alone. Loneliness could easily loom large in my day-to-day life.
Since Harry collapsed and died, aged 89, at a nursing home where he was recuperating after a fall, being alone is something I’ve had no choice but to accept.
I’ve had to learn to deal with the sharp stabs of grief. Indeed, there have been moments when grief has grabbed at my throat so mercilessly I thought it might choke me.
But however sad I am that the love of my life has gone, the one thing I am not is lonely.
And that’s because ever since I was a young wife and mother, I have prepared for this time. I’ve worked hard to defeat the power that loneliness would have to floor me if I gave it a chance.
I know very well that it can be a crippling emotion – one that I experienced fully for the first time back in 1980, when my career as an author took me on a solo trip to New York, away from Harry and a then nine-year-old Charlie for the first time.
Harry and I met in the early Sixties. We had experienced periods apart before, but there had always been colleagues, friends and of course Charlie to spend my time with.
On this trip, however, I was suddenly alone. The loneliness took my breath away. All the excitement of being in such a vibrant city was dulled by the fact I had no one to share it with. I’d got on the plane feeling excited at the thought of space and time alone. What busy mother wouldn’t? Yet just a few hours after landing – a full week of loneliness spanning out in front of me – I was counting down the days until I could fly home.
After spending the week feeling like a bag of nerves, and kicking myself for it, I vowed I would never allow loneliness to take hold of me again.
Keeping such a horrible emotion at bay is something you have to work at
It struck me that keeping such a horrible emotion at bay was something you had to work at; just as stiff joints need exercise, so the brain requires training if it’s to have the strength not to buckle when there’s no one else around.
And so, as a busy woman of 43, I began to seek experiences that would trigger feelings of loneliness – dining alone, going for solitary walks, relying on my own counsel when I had a problem. I did it because I knew that one day I would almost certainly face being alone again – after all, women statistically outlive their husbands and I had married a man nine years my senior.
Returning to the childhood techniques I had used to crush boredom, such as daydreaming and reading, proved brilliant distractions.
And I found that the more time I sat alone in a cafe, flicking through a magazine or simply people-watching, the less self-conscious I became.
Meanwhile, I identified activities that made me feel lonely; surprisingly, watching television was one of them, because of the way it spoon-fed me with entertainment.
Over the years I’ve also learnt that you can’t indulge loneliness or surrender to it – you have to rail against it
Over the years I’ve also learnt that you can’t indulge loneliness or surrender to it
Loneliness is challenged when your mental faculties are put under stress. Reading, especially poetry, forces me to put much more effort into my own amusement and leaves me emotionally satisfied as a result.
So I turned away from the TV set and started hanging on to books that moved me, keeping them on shelves in my living room where they could patiently wait for the moments when I needed a friend.
Spending time with negative people also made me feel lonely. I noticed that the older some of us got, the more pessimistic and judgmental we could become.
When you live in a world where you blindly believe things will work out well and that people are fundamentally good, as younger generations so often do, it’s funny how loneliness doesn’t seem to belong there.
And so I sought positive connections and began to avoid the people whose negativity threatened to drag me down.
Over the years I’ve also learnt that you can’t indulge loneliness or surrender to it – you have to rail against it. You have to strike up conversations with strangers and allow yourself to be fascinated by their lives, rather than sit at home waiting for the phone or doorbell to ring.
Whether I’m having my hair done or picking up groceries, even if I’m queuing up for stamps at the Post Office – I talk to the human being next to me.
You would be amazed how many snippets of conversation become characters in my detective stories; what grains of truth from my day-to-day life make it into my novels.
Life is a gift – and one that my generation will soon enough face saying goodbye to.
To let loneliness take the shine off it at any stage is a crime we should all try to avoid committing.
Article by Marion Beaton, first published on © Daily Mail
Author: ANA Newswire