Heading Down Lonely Street

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Loneliness, if dwelt on, can become a serious affliction if not tackled with doggedness and determination. On a personal level, my loneliness is not caused by being alone. It stems from missing my close friends. Some seniors compensate by joining social groups or organizations to fill the void, but socializing with a bunch of strangers is sometimes worse than being alone. Although activities for seniors are plentiful, I remain somewhat reluctant to sign up, after experiencing a mind-numbing aquafit and stay-fit program at the local community centre.  

The subject of loneliness has suddenly become a popular topic in the media, where it has been declared a crisis. Unlike past generations, where families cared for each other, societal changes have badly fractured family solidarity. This has resulted in millions of people now flying solo, thus increasing chances of a lonely existence. Modern families are splintered because of high divorce rates, job mobility, fewer, or no children, and a growing tendency to delay or forego marriage.

According to media reports, loneliness is world-wide problem among adults of all ages. Currently almost one third of Canadians live alone. An Angus Reid survey reported that four in ten Canadians said they sometimes or often wished they had someone to talk to. One quarter said they would rather have less time alone, with 18-to-34 -year-olds in the majority. Women under 35 expressed more feelings of loneliness than any other group

Each year in Japan, 4,000 people die alone in their homes and are not discovered until their bodies start to decompose. Next door, 100 million Americans now live alone. A 2018 survey found that nearly half of all Americans report “sometimes or always” feeling alone and that 18 to 22-year-olds are the loneliest generation of all.  One in four Germans over 70 receive less than a single visit per month by family or friends and one in 10 receive no visits at all. Some experts who study loneliness declare that it has become a human catastrophe.

How does a person, living alone, combat loneliness? Since my wife died 22 years ago after nearly 40 years of marriage, I have experienced different ways of dealing with loneliness. The obvious one is to keep busy.

A friend advised me to accept invitations even when the urge to decline is strong. This sound advice does indeed ward off loneliness. Friends and family were my salvation. They helped me fill the void by inviting me to their functions and welcoming me along on some of their vacations. I have spent memorable holidays in Australia, Barbados, Ukraine, Alaska, The Yukon, Northern Quebec, and St. Martin with a few close friends.  My adult children have also invited me to join them on family vacations to Cuba, California, Italy, and Scotland. In October I travelled with some of my family to sunny Spain for two weeks, where we visited with my granddaughter, living in Madrid, and enjoyed the countryside as we ventured south to Cordoba and Seville.

Travelling alone is not my favourite activity, as I prefer sharing my experiences with a friend. However, I reluctantly signed up with a travel agency for group tours, over several years, to France, Turkey, Egypt, and Greece. While in Turkey, I met a woman on the same tour who eventually became my soul mate for the next 10 years, until her untimely death in 2019. We shared countless hours together at my home, as well as memorable holidays to Costa Rica, Hawaii, Panama, New Orleans, and Europe. Losing her companionship has left a huge hole in my life.

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Dr. James F. McDonald is a retired elementary school principal who lives in Dundas, ON.
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