Coping when life grows lonely

If something is gone from a person’s life, the onus is on them – in part at least – to reach out, to family and to friends, and as well for new experiences, to keep mentally stimulated. But their family and acquaintances can help, too.

Barbara Barb Bowes Transitions
Barbara Bowes

Everyone has experienced loneliness at one time or another, but the holiday season such as our recent Thanksgiving and upcoming Christmas celebrations are especially troublesome for many people. These festive days become even more troublesome when a spouse, family member, close friend and/or companion have recently passed on. More than likely, these individuals are still in the early throes of the grieving cycle and their strong sense of emotional loss often pulls them into loneliness.

lonely-christmasWhen friends move on
At the same time, a personal sense of loss doesn’t need to be as traumatic as death in the family to cause loneliness. In fact, when one’s church group, social circle or group of friends collapses and there are no more meetings to look forward to, individuals can feel the same sense of loss and loneliness. This emotional phenomenon can apply to individuals of all ages, for instance, those who recently divorced and for the first time are not invited to the traditional family dinner.

Yet, when loneliness strikes a senior and it lingers and lingers far too long, there are numerous repercussions that can occur. For instance, individuals who are depressed and lonely are known to internalize their negative feelings. This in turn only serves to compound the sense of isolation and loneliness and especially for seniors, it could eventually lead to death.

However, no matter what the age of a senior, today’s technology can help lift people out of the pit of loneliness. At the very least, have family set up a computer with your personal email and get busy contacting friends and family. If my 87-year-old mother could do it, so can you! It’s exciting to see so many families using the skype technology to stay in touch with travelers, grandchildren, brothers and sisters.

In addition, with most people owning a cell phone, the latest strategy is to text your family. While these are short bursts of messages, it really helps to keep track of who is where. While it may be difficult to reach out to others and to join new activities, if an individual is mobile they must take personal initiative to get out of their emotional rut.

Our newspapers are full of volunteer activities and calls for volunteers to help various organizations. Treat a volunteer opportunity similar to one of your career roles. In other words, you need to match your skills, interests and values with that of the organization seeking volunteers. The goal is to help while having fun.

Learn something new
There is an old saying, “You are only as old as you think”, and I believe this to be so true. With that in mind, I suggest signing up to take a learning course of some kind; perhaps starting with a course on using a computer or one of those new iPad systems. There are writing courses, genealogy courses, academic courses and courses on how to play bridge, make quilts or how to swim or curl. The key is to keep your mind stimulated and occupied.

On the other hand, I also believe that each of us should reach out and share our lives with others who have little or no family nearby and whom you know are lonely. For instance, I call and regularly visit two seniors, age 96 and 90. I know they aren’t able to get out into the community and I know their social groups have collapsed and/or have postponed meeting in celebratory seasons.

One lady thrives on building puzzles and so I try to bring her the most complicated one I can find. I am always delighted when she puts the completed puzzle on a heavy piece of cardboard and saves it to show me on the next visit. The older lady is blind and so talking and sharing stories is something she enjoys.

I feel good when I leave these visits because I know that for a brief hour or so I erased their loneliness and I enjoyed myself as well. Frankly, I hope that when I get to that age, someone will regularly visit me.

Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group, a columnist and radio host at CJOB. She can be reached at

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