It is creeping towards me. Stealthily, viciously, deadly. Since leaving the country of my youth where we lived in a big extended family I have always felt in danger of this threat but this was often allayed by the advantages of living free with no prying and judging eyes. My maternal Grandmother lived with us. She was part of the family but not quite. She mainly kept to her room being served her meals by a maid who was looking after her. My father could not bear the noise of her ill-fitting dentures at the table and she was only admitted at the table for the high holidays. She sat a the window all day long and observed the comings and goings of the tenants of this modern block of flats. She followed the dramas and comedies of a street always full of people and she used to run after me with a cardigan when she saw friends coming to pick me up to go out in the evening…

I often think of her now. I sit at my suburban kitchen window and observe the seasonal changes of the oak tree or the impassive leaves of the …. and I think yes it is about to get me.

It started a year after my retirement. I missed my colleagues dreadfully, the wonderful feeling of working in a team and knowing each other rather well. The daily contacts  and the feeling of the daily changes of my life being witnessed, the need to get on with people I did not like particularly.. In this gap year I achieved my dream of swimming on the Great Barrier Reef and observing the tropical natural wildlife I then settled in the anonymous London Suburb where I knew nobody in spite of having lived here for decades.   I joined different associations, The U3A, the antinuclear groups, the feminist groups and often went birdwatching on holiday. I read Betty Friedan but did not heed her advice of the time to change ones life as you grow older is soon after retirement. I was too busy campaigning and making new acquaintances but apart from a handful of very close friends who lived a long way away the quality of connection of the extended family or of my special working environment  was never achieved again.

In perfect synchrony the physical changes and the dreaded fear augment by the day. A meeting missed here a demonstration avoided there.   I have started to diminish my activities and opportunities for social contacts.



4 thoughts on “FEAR OF ISOLATION

  1. I was born one of 6 children in a lively household.
    Looking back now, I think I have spent my whole life first avoiding being alone, then hating being alone and over the last 20 years slowly learning how to be alone and to be content with my own company. It is the most important learning of my life. That does not mean that I do not need social contact. Of course I do. This society is suspicious of people, especially women who enjoy their own company. Have you read the book by Sara Maitland called How To Be Alone/? I find it useful and uplifting. I don’t know what your physical state is but if you would like to, perhaps you could have a look at Do It.com and see the many types of voluntary work that are available? I have found that volunteering even for just 3-4 hours a week makes me feel part of a community again.

  2. I understand how worrying it must be when the ability to get out and interact with people you like diminishes. But you do connect with people through your blog and I admire your courage in telling it like it is . Recently retired, my energy isn’t yet diminished, but I have to travel further to see simpatico people and I can see that in older age the world shrinks and perhaps it’s the less imaginative people who adapt to that! I now live alone, although someone stays at the weekend and my son calls in once or twice a week. I find that one good face to face chat a day with someone makes all the difference (phone calls or the internet don’t do it)….it doesn’t really matter who the chat is with, as long as it’s real rather than superficial. When I lived in the UK I found people very friendly (once introduced!) but reticent about inviting people into their homes, as well as reluctant to talk to strangers.
    By the way, have you seen the documentary Hip Operation, about ageing hip-hoppers? It’s set on Waiheke Island where I live and has recently won a number of international prizes.

    • It is wonderful to have both responses hlapsley and Cordelia. Thank you. I may need to explain myself further. I am not talking of the loneliness of people who ‘have no one’ as the AgeUk campaign puts it. I am lucky to have a partner, children, grandchildren and even a great-grandchild. They come and visit when they can. Two of my most intimate friends have died but I have still friends in my film group, two different discussion groups. I am talking of the daily contacts that makes a community: the local baker with whom I exchanged news of our children who went to the same school when I first came to this area, the man at the local Post Office, the neighbours who have now left for posher areas, the two ladies at the craft shop who sold my knitting wool. When my partner is away I worry that if I fall unconscious, nobody would miss my absence for days. I know there are emergency necklaces and the internet and mobile phones but I do not think they replace the daily social contact however superficial that is to me so important.

  3. Ah! Now I understand more clearly and I can completely see that you miss the daily contacts that you used to have. I think that the emergency necklace is a good thing to have in case of an accident when you might be far from the place where you have left your phone. What about neighbours or the local community centre? I am sure you have explored most options but sometimes even at our age it is about forming new connections gently and slowly with the new newsagent, baker or similar near to us. Easy to say I know and not so easy to do. Would it be possible to have a reciprocal arrangement with friends about checking on one another?

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