It’s odd that in the last five years since my mom was really ill, I never thought about what would happen when she was gone. I guess the focus was always on trying to make her better and then, how to make her as comfortable as possible. Days were always filled with doctor’s appointments and nurses visits. Our family was always so busy and we were in constant contact with each other through on-going text conversations.
When my mother passed at the end of April, the next process of going through all of her things filled the void. And my mom had a lot of stuff. A lot. We used to joke that she was a professional shopper and kept the local mall in business. My father never denied her anything and my mother was an accomplished bargain hunter. She could sniff out a deal from a mile away. My mom had great style and a keen eye for quality clothing. Unfortunately, she never got the chance to wear a lot of her beautiful things in the last years of her life.
And so we are now packing up the last of her things to send off to church bizarres and charity clothing stores. Time spent at my parents’ home is now less and less as my siblings and I are getting back to life with our own perspective families.
Except for my dad.
Life for him has completely, irrevocably changed. He’s alone. All alone. Yes, he has the four of us plus our families but it’s not the same. I don’t know why I naively thought that we would be enough, that we could be enough to fill the void of someone that stood by his side for over 65 years.
My dad is a super tough guy. He rarely lets you see his emotional side. And that served him well over the last few, tumultuous years. But I’ve seen the tears and the emptiness often now and I’m not sure how or if I can be of any comfort.
Old age loneliness is not like any other loneliness. Your life long partner is gone. Most of your friends are gone. Your ability to go new places and meet new friends may be restricted. This kind of loneliness can’t be fluffed off as temporary or passing. This may be it for you, forever. That can be truly overwhelming and depressing.
So what can you do to help seniors with their loneliness?
1. Set up regular, scheduled times to visit. My dad and I eat out at a restaurant once a week on senior discount day. At first he was reluctant but now he sees it as him treating me for lunch not me checking on him.
2. Encourage community involvement with people their own age. It may take you going with them a few times but it is worth the effort. I could not believe the senior community in Florida when my dad and I went last month. The center held luncheons twice a week. It was wonderful to see such an involved group. They also kept tabs on each other and helped those who were sick and couldn’t make it. My dad was actually the baby of the group at 87.
3. Help them set up their own routines and reasons to get up and dressed. Nothing beats having purpose. I like to ask for my dad’s opinion or get him to help me with projects around the house. Days filled with solitary thinking can lead to depression and withdrawal. Seniors aren’t dead yet. Let them be useful in what ever way they can.
I know I can’t replace the empty void in my dad’s life since my mom’s passing. I hope in time that the loneliness may ease a little and that he learns to adjust as a widower. Who knows. He’s still very healthy and active for 87. Maybe he will find a companion to spend time with. He and I did meet some spry hundred year old women in Florida so you never know. He could end up being the younger man.