“I’m not lonely, Janie.” My Mother’s words after my Father’s death were anything but re-assuring. For the first time in over sixty years she was completely on her own. She and Dad were a couple and as they aged their social networks had disappeared, so Mum was left with just the visits from her family. How many people today are stuck with long hours of their own company? Can we? Should we? Do anything about it?
The other weekend I saw no-one. I spoke to no-one. It was an experiment, to try to feel what real loneliness must be like. But I was not lonely. I fired off answers to received emails. I responded to Facebook. I spoke to a friend on the phone. I popped out to the supermarket and chatted to the chap on the till. And I was busily sewing a chair cover which completely occupied my thoughts so time passed quickly without time to dwell on being lonely.
“Oh well, you are used to being on your own” I hear you say. Well, yes, I am. My first experience of being on my own was the university years, living in a hostel with a couple of hundred fellow students. I suffered from severe homesickness and I desperately missed my five younger siblings but I was not actually lonely. Student life kept me going. Then, after my sons left home, I became single again and on my own. When I say, “I’m not lonely” my words DO mean it. I have an extensive, complicated network of contacts/ friends/ family. So if I leave my home to go shopping I will always see someone to “pass the time of day with'”. Anything from just saying a mutual “Hi!” to a more detailed exchange. My regular activities: Tai Chi Class, Pilates Session and Women’s Institute Meetings have made me so many contacts and many have become friends. Then there are the friendships established through work and study. I am truly fortunate.
‘Loneliness’ is difficult to define. The Women’s Institute website has a well-informed section on the subject – click here. It is even more difficult to explain. There are people who are lonely because they are shy and ‘making friends’ is a mammoth task for them. Then there are people who are trapped indoors by mobility problems so suffer from long periods of enforced loneliness. I discovered on the WI’s website that loneliness affects health more than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. . . . .
What can we do if we feel lonely? It is so easy to say, “Get out and join a group.” or “Volunteer at your local charity shop”. Not so easy to do . . . To alleviate loneliness it is necessary to be pro-active not re-active. It is no good waiting for someone else to make the first move. However, that is a bit like telling someone who is depressed to “pull themselves together.” They would if they could but they can’t. In June the Women’s Institute is debating the motions proposed for next year’s campaign and one of those is about alleviating loneliness. I do hope that the motion is passed. The WI has a long history of successful campaigns. With over 230,000 members they can surely propose practical solutions and “do something about it”.
On that subject, what can I do right now? Today? I must pop in to see my neighbour – have neglected her for nearly a fortnight now. I should send a card to my cousin AND call her on her landline. Then I ought to text my grandchildren. Oh yes, I can email my local friends to wish them a happy St George’s Day. I am never lonely but on occasion I may feel ‘alone’.