Just as I thought to myself how well I was doing old age, old age reached out and slapped me in my face for my hubris. Within the past six months, it has slammed me with a heart attack, multiple fainting episodes, open heart surgery and vision diminished so badly I can no long drive.
Yep, welcome to the golden years.
All thoughts of independence have gone down the tubes. All thoughts of how amazing an old lady I am have been permanently squashed. And after two years of this blankety-blank pandemic, even a crusty old loner like my reputation apparently holds me out to be is actually welcoming to the sound of other human voices in my home.
Over the years I’ve read about the loneliness and isolation of old age. Friends die. New friends are hard to find. Old friends move away. Other friends have their own families to share their days. If you are a single, elderly person, a lot of those supports that you always thought would be there are suddenly gone and you are more alone than you ever really intended to be.
I’m lucky in many ways. For all the friends I’ve lost to the lower 48, illness and death, I have so many still wonderful friends around me. Yet I have still felt pangs of loneliness so strong they felt like a second heart attack. After years of announcing how happy I was to have my own home and my own privacy, two years of pandemic isolation followed by the isolation that comes when you can’t drive anywhere, have left me definitely having second thoughts on the topic. I lay in bed at night and long for the sound of other human beings in my house. I want my privacy but I also suddenly want to share it.
I am somewhat chagrinned to have to admit how low my credit card bill is every month now that I don’t go out as much as I used to. I mean, really, really low. Apparently I was spending a lot more on lunches and grocery shopping when I was bored than I ever realized. I seemingly shop for groceries the way some people shop for clothes – when I’m bored, I like to browse.
I still find it hard to believe just how much those lunches were costing me. But although I enjoy the healthier balance in my checkbook every month, the loss of human interaction is not worth the savings in dollars. I remember that Streisand song, “People Who Need People”. When I was young and first heard it, I thought those people must be weak to be so dependent on others. Now I think very differently. Now I understand.
It’s not easy to choose between being alone and lonely, between having people around all the time and wanting to scream at them to get out. I know that somewhere in there is a solid middle ground but the older I get, the harder that ground is to find. For now, I make do with the companionship of people who get me where I have to go, whether to the doctor, lunch or the grocery store. For me, that’s a big start into getting people back into my life. When you become dependent on others for life’s simplest tasks, your pride takes quite a hit and that Streisand song’s meaning becomes more and more clear.
So here’s the bottom line. If you know a single elderly person who is still making a go of it on his or her own, take a moment every once in a while to just check in with them. You cannot possibly imagine what something as simple as a phone call can mean. I certainly never understood how important those calls and visits would become. I’m guessing I’m not alone.
We are the elderly. We are out here. Don’t forget us.