“It’s your shot Charlie,” Alf called from across the pool table with a bit of impatience. Charlie hadn’t been paying attention, lost in his own thoughts again. He was doing that quite a bit these days. “Are you playing or not?” Alf asked with his hands on his hips. “Oh…um yes…” Charlie said, picking up his pool cue and making his way over to the table. He took aim at the white ball lined up to hit the red ball in the corner. “No, no, no, we’re stripes Charlie. Are you even paying attention to the game?” Charlie put down his cue. “No, I guess I’m not. Maybe get someone else to shoot for me. I’m not feeling very well.”
Charlie made his way down the hall. Fred came following after him. “Charlie! Charlie! Forget Alf, he’s being a grump today. Please come back and join us.” Charlie shook his head. “No, it’s not like that. Like I said, I just haven’t been feeling right. I might just need to head back upstairs for a rest.” Fred gave Charlie a reluctant look.
Charlie closed the door to his suite and made his way over to the chair. Cleo stretched out on the couch, now suddenly awake, and made her way over to Charlie’s lap, where she curled up comfortably to resume the nap that had been disturbed. “How are you today kitty?” Charlie asked giving Cleo a rub between her ears. She purred happily. Charlie felt a bit better, but realized how sad he truly felt. Despite having Cleo and his friends, he felt very alone.
He looked around the suite. He had most of his belongings in boxes, ready to head downstairs to the smaller unit to make room for the new couple moving in. It wasn’t the move that was making him unhappy, it was just the situation.
He missed Hazel. He missed over sixty years of routine and everyday habits he wasn’t even previously aware were habits. Knowing there was someone else in the house when he got up had him tip-toeing quietly to the bathroom and kitchen. He used to just know what to buy at the grocery store and how much of everything was needed. Now, there was so much waste now in his fridge as he barely cooked anymore. There was even the habit of calling out to another person when the toilet paper roll was empty to bring more from the closet. Charlie had to make sure he kept an extra roll or two by the garbage bin. There were so many little banal things that he had taken for granted for so long. Silly things that were now big things because of how loud the echo of silence was. They were giant voids…chasms in fact…that a cat or a group of friends just couldn’t fill.
And for some strange reason, he didn’t want to fill them. Yes, the loneliness hurt, but the absence of Hazel reminded him that she used to be there. There was a strange, albeit extremely sad, comfort in that. When he tried to venture out of his home for some company, it just felt awkward. Even though he was surrounded by people, he still felt very much alone. Lonely in his own head with his lonely thoughts. The sadness distracted him, made it absolutely impossible to focus. He felt torn between wanting to remember and wanting to forget too. But forgetting was as painful as remembering he thought.
There was a faint knock at the door. “Who is it?” Charlie called out from his chair. “It’s me, Fred. Are you ok in there?” Fred asked, concerned. Charlie grumbled. “I’m fine Fred. Please just leave me alone.” “Just open the door Charlie, you stubborn old man!” Charlie rose from his chair and shuffled over to the door, with a great deal of annoyance.
“Look who’s calling who stubborn, I told you to buzz off!” Charlie said as he opened the door. Fred looked at him with tears in his eyes. “Charlie, I know exactly what you are going through. I did this when Alice passed. You can’t shut people out.” Charlie shook his head. “I’m not shutting anyone out. I just deal with things better by myself.” Fred let out a laugh. “Charlie, you haven’t had to deal with anything by yourself for decades. At least not long term.” Charlie let out a smirk. “I’m lonely Fred. And I don’t know if I like it better that way or not. You’ve been great at keeping me distracted, but I’m distracted doing my distractions now. I might need to actually focus on what’s going on.”
Fred thought for a moment. “Have you thought about talking to anyone about this?” Charlie looked at him puzzled. “What do you think I’m doing right now?” Fred let out a sigh. “Not talking to a nincompoop like me, Charlie. Talking to someone with more brains than me…like a doctor or something.” Charlie glared at Fred. “That’s the last thing I need. Some doctor giving me more pills than I’m already on. I don’t need happy pills. I just need…” Charlie looked around. “Dang it! You got me. I don’t actually know what I need.”
Fred bit the inside of his cheek. “I think that’s why you might need to talk to someone Charlie,” Fred said, placing a hand on Charlie’s shoulder.
A recent study in the UK has shown that loneliness and isolation can be as damaging to one’s health as smoking or obesity. Loneliness is one of the leading causes of health complications and even death in seniors. One of the most surprising facts of studies on loneliness in seniors is that the majority of those that feel lonely do not actually live alone (less than 18% of lonely seniors live by themselves).
And the loneliness epidemic doesn’t include only seniors. It effects both young and old, across all geographic areas and demographics.
Fortunately, there are advocacy groups and people working to end the loneliness epidemic. The Campaign to End Loneliness is one such initiative that strives to help people overcome actual isolation or the feeling of being isolated. To learn more about this initiative, which was started in the UK, visit https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/