I’ll tell you a secret: you’ll find more wisdom for coping with being alone in the comments below than in this whole article! When you feel old and lonely, you need like-minded folks for comfort and support. My tips on how to cope with being alone in old age are good (if I do say so myself!), but my readers’ comments are more helpful.
If you recently lost someone you love, read Words of Comfort When Your Heart is Broken. No matter how old you are or how lonely you feel, you need to hold on to hope, faith, and strength. Find ways to connect with other people, with God, with pets and places that bring you joy and healing. Loneliness is tough – if not impossible – to overcome alone.
I’m glad you’re here. I’m sorry you feel lonely, and I wish you didn’t feel old! But you’re here, and you matter. We need you. The world needs your spirit, your breath, and your presence. Your life isn’t over, and you are more necessary and loved than you think. You’re coping with a spell of loneliness, you may feel as old and dry as the dust bowl in the Great Depression…but here you are in my She Blossoms garden! And I have a few Blossom Tips on how to cope with being alone when you’re old to share with you.
This is a tough article for me to write because I love being alone and I rarely get lonely. I’m older than I look – I’m 48 years old, married without children. I love silence; I’m one of those introverted writers who could live like a hermit all year round. Maybe I’d poke my head out of my cave once a week or so, check the weather.
What about you – how do you feel about being alone? Are you too old, weak or tired to get out of the house? Share your life with me in the comments section below. I have no advice to give, but I’ll read every word you write. Another reader may write back to you. But even if you don’t get a response, writing may help you feel better about coping with being alone.
Here are a few tips for coping with loneliness and feeling old. My favorite one is to be like a caterpillar…
How to Cope With Being Alone When You’re Old
I’m writing this for T.S., who is worried she won’t have children and will thus be alone when she’s old. She left the following comment and question on my article about coping with being childless:
“I am slowly coming to terms with the probability that my husband and I will not have biological children….we have spent more than $150,000 on fertility treatments that have gone nowhere. I am now in my late 40′s and the reality of the situation is finally dawning on me. I found comfort in your insights and advice, Laurie, and I agree that a positive attitude and enjoying life to the fullest regardless of whether one has children is the way to go. But one thing that bothers me, that I just can’t come to terms with, is the prospect that my husband and I will end up being old and alone. We are both only children and have no family where we live except for my aging parents. When they die, we will be on our own. I’m terrified of being incapacitated and unable to turn to loved ones for love, company and support. I am equally worried for my husband, that should I die first, he will have to endure this fate as well. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this and how to best deal with this possible scenario? Thanks, T.S.”
One of the most important tips for coping with the fear of aging alone is to remember that you are not alone. So many of us are walking home alone, estranged from family members, feeling lonely and old and sad and tired. We’re all scared to be alone as we age, even when we’re surrounded by loved ones.
Last week, a reader asked for help coping with her husband’s death – she’s elderly and can’t envision life without him. So I wrote Starting Over in Your 60s – After Your Husband Dies. She has children, but she still feels alone, lonely, and afraid in her senior years.
Getting old can be scary, but we don’t have to let it overshadow the best parts of our lives. We are not powerless. We don’t have to sit back and worry about being alone, ill, or lonely when we’re old.
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Having children does not guarantee comfort or companionship
My 45 year old sister hasn’t talked to my 74 year old mother in over 10 years, and I don’t think that’ll change soon. My mom didn’t do anything to deserve the silent treatment from her daughter. My mom is mentally ill (schizophrenic), but she doesn’t deserve to be cut out of her daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives! No matter how many children you have, there’s no guarantee they’ll want to talk to you when they’re grown.
And, even if your kids like you, there’s no guarantee they’ll live in the same city, state, province, country, or continent as you. My husband and I live in Vancouver, BC; his parents live in Edmonton, AB. My dad lives in Jerusalem, Israel. My mom lives in Saskatchewan, and I don’t even know where my sister is. I haven’t heard from her about ten years. Maybe more, I don’t even know anymore.
Whether you have biological kids or not, there is no guarantee you won’t be alone and lonely in your old age. Many seniors and baby boomers are alone even though they have adult children, because their kids are living their own busy lives. Adult children do not necessarily mean that older people aren’t alone – their kids may be homeless, imprisoned, or physically or emotionally unable or unwilling to be family.
Create your own “family” – don’t count on kin to keep you company
If you don’t want to be alone in your old age, now is the time to start making friendships and building ties that will last long after you’re dead. I think that having biological kids is probably the least effective way to ensure you’re not alone as you age! There are too many unknowns. What if your child is physically or chronically ill from birth onwards? What if your child passes away before you do? What if you get divorced, and your child prefers your spouse to you?
Instead of counting on kin to keep you company or take care of you during your twilight years, start making connections with people you wish were your family. Non-family relationships can be deeper and easier than family relationships, because they come without the baggage of the past.
Never let one person or thing become the center of your life
If you only have your spouse to rely on and something happens to him, then you’ll be lost. If your career is your primary source of fulfillment and you lose your job, then you’ll be more alone than you ever thought possible – and you won’t even be that old! If your children are your only source of fulfillment and they distance themselves from you, then you’ll feel like you’ve lost everything.
To cope with being alone in your old age – to cope with all of life’s ups and downs – create a strong network of love and support. Cherish your neighbors, colleagues, old friends, hobbies, activities. If something happens to one of the most important parts of your life, then you’ll have the other ones to gain comfort from.
Pretend you’re a caterpillar: the more legs you have, the less you’ll notice if you lose one.
Be a Big Sister – maybe you’ll grow from volunteer to family member
One of the best ways to cope with being alone in your old age is to volunteer! Spend time with an at-risk youth who needs a mentor, a positive role model, through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. I was a Little Sister when I was 11 years old; my Big Sister changed my life. We’re still in touch to this day – 30 years later! She changed my life…and she never had kids. She lives inToronto, and her family lives here in BC…and I see her once a year.
When I worked as a Mentoring Coordinator with Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, my volunteers said that their friendships with their Little Brothers went from volunteering to family. I’ve applied to be a Big Sister, and the caseworker said the same thing: your relationship with your Little Sister changes. It’s not about volunteering anymore.
Sometimes the relationships you make when you volunteer can be deeper and better than your family. Of course, there’s no guarantee – some matches never really click, or they fade away as the years go on. But, if you’re scared of being alone in your old age, why not be conscious about the relationships you’re building with people?
Take old age one step at a time
Yes, being elderly, infirm, and incapacitated is scary and maybe even awful…but unless you’re there now, there’s no point in worrying about it. Like T.S., I don’t want to end up sick and alone in my old age. But it could happen, and there’s not much I can do about it right now…other than connect with people I like and respect, volunteer to build meaningful relationships, and enjoy each moment as it stands.
If you’re struggling with loneliness, read Hope for a New Beginning When You Don’t Want to Be Alone.
What do you think about my tips on how to cope with loneliness when you’re old and alone? I welcome your comments – big and little – below. And don’t worry: I don’t give advice! It’s your turn to talk 🙂
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