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Friday, August 14, 2015

When One is the Loneliest Number

Loneliness can suck. When I've felt it at various periods of my life, it left me listless and desperate for ways to end it. It left me uncertain about myself and careless in my actions. I've been lucky though; I've had the right people and some good coping tricks to pull me through each time.

But it seems loneliness is becoming an epidemic. We are becoming a lonelier society, isolated in our easy-communication world from real friends and meaningful contacts. In an article from the Globe and Mail Elizabeth Renzetti documents some sad facts: social isolation is the biggest concern in the city of Vancouver, more Canadians than ever live alone and a quarter of them describe themselves as lonely.

The article is almost two years old but with updates still circulates on the Globe's website which says more than the article itself about our fear of loneliness.

When it comes to seniors, the article quotes a Statistics Canada figure from 2012: Twenty percent of old people report feeling lonely.

Being alone is not equal to loneliness. After all, the 75 per cent of those who live alone in Canada and not mentioned in the Renzetti article didn't describe themselves as lonely.

Loneliness is the cruel cousin of solitude. Solitude allows for creativity, a greater connection to the earth and a strong sense of self. Loneliness brings all the opposites.

Loneliness also pushes people in directions that can harm them. This summer  The New York Times reported on swindlers who take advantage of lonely, aging woman trying to find new partners to share their latter lives and ease their isolation. Even the fear of loneliness, the fear of dying alone, often keeps people who are in relationships in bad ones.

No one wants to die alone. Wild actor, Jack Nicholson fears it. I fear it. We all fear it. No one wants to be the British woman whose body was discovered six years after she'd died. According to Jezebel.com, those who fear dying alone are childless, have children who live far away, live alone, have physical or mental impairments, live in rural areas or are the loner type with small social networks. That covers a lot of ground.

I know childless people with the fear. And I know people who live alone with that fear. For me, my fear centers around the fact that I am a bit of the loner type without a lot of social networks.

But that's what it is: a fear. None of us can predict how or when we will die. There's little we can do about it.

On the other hand, we can tackle loneliness as we age, find ways to build a community we are comfortable with, reach out to those who we know are suffering loneliness now. We can avoid the traps, work on ourselves and work with others to stay connected. It might be one of the greatest challenges we face in The Third Phase but that doesn't mean we can't do anything about it.

That may sound Pollyanish. But as a girl I always admired the spirit of Pollyanna. Pushed in the mud, she found a quarter. I'd like to see how an older Pollyanna would handle loneliness. D

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