REAL LIFE STORIES
Linda, Wales

My tips are to: Be resilient, stay positive, be pragmatic, stay active and be more social. Read my journey out of loneliness – I hope it helps you.

I had no idea that I would become one of those people referred to in surveys where they say three quarters of older people in the UK are lonely. (Survey carried out by Jo Cox, Commission on Loneliness). About 7 in 10 respondents – average age 63 – I’m 64 – said close friends and family would be surprised to hear they felt lonely. This is now seen as a serious public health issue. Triggers include bereavement, retirement, serious ill health and children leaving home. I can tick all 4 boxes!

My personality is one where I am determined, loyal, generous, well organized, firm but fair. Im passionate about things particularly if they mean a lot to me. My management style was a “thruster organizer” – I was always busy, and I loved a challenge.

If someone had told me in my late 40s, that just 20 years on I would be in this situation I don’t think I would have believed them. Back then, my life was so different, Mam and Dad were alive; my brother and his wife were happy with their daughter; my younger brother and his wife were happy too; I was married to my second husband and had a lovely son, then aged 10 years.

Tragedy first struck in 1999 when my brother died of a heart attack at home with his young 17 year old daughter there. What a traumatic effect on the whole family but particularly my parents. I was the one who had to tell them he had died, something I never got over and to this day I don’t think I’ve grieved for his loss properly because I was looking after my parents, his wife and my niece.

My wonderful son went off to University and I then experienced the “empty nest” syndrome as well.

In 2003, my mother, who had been ill with various ailments most of her life, died after another illness in hospital. This left us totally rudderless as she kept our family together with her love and kindness. Now I had my Dad to look after too and we lived about 50 mins away from each other. I spoke to him at least two or three times a day and visited him twice a week. During this time unfortunately, my husband and I split up, because we realised we could not live together anymore. We bought houses near to each other, about 10 mins away so that we could stay in touch.

In 2005, I had a major back operation and my ex-husband was marvelous as he was a consultant so knew how to care for me. Bad luck struck again in 2006, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He was told he only had 6-9 months to live so I went to live with him until he passed away in March 2009. I was now totally alone, as my son was living and working in London with his lovely wife.

Yes, these were terrible life challenges, but what should I do? I couldn’t magic a new family out of thin air so I had to do something. In 2013 I also decided, due to ill health, that I would retire after 40 years’ in the Civil Service. I guess I now made myself more lonely, but would staying in work have been any better? I had worked very hard all my working life, with a team of 80 plus staff, working in the UK and the EU, but it was too stressful to stay.

Words like being resilient, positive, practical, active and be social come to mind. I decided I needed to be able to look forward to something every day. My first thing was to buy a diary! I much prefer a paper and set about filling the days in a different way. I offered to help in two local schools assisting with children with reading and learning difficulties and I’m still doing that one day a week, four year on. It’s very rewarding and I enjoy being able to help the children.

My friend has a small child and needed some help with after school activities and at half term time so I’m helping out there and again I’ve been doing that for some years. They treat me as part of the family and that’s wonderful.

My church, where I used to live, is being renovated and I was asked if I would like to be part of the renovation project which I am. I’m the Secretary for the project but I also do all the admin work for the Parish as a whole as we now have a small office in the adjoining coffee shop and the work has increased tremendously over the past 2 years.

And exercise! I was also told by my consultant that because of my back problem, one of the activities I could do to help was to swim! I hadn’t been swimming since I had an accident at 12 years l’d and wasn’t sure I even could swim, so what was I going to do. I was determined to learn to swim so I found myself a personal trainer and he was wonderful and extremely patient and after 6 months I could swim. Now I have joined a local gym and swim whenever I can.

So yes, I have had to be resilient, stay positive, be pragmatic, stay active and be more social. So, thinking about loneliness, have these attributes helped and I honestly think they have. I have an amazing group of friends and we try and meet socially as often as we can. Some I meet every week, others because they have busy lives, maybe once a month. I know I can count on them.

Honestly, can I say I never feel lonely, of course not, but when I do, I try to think about all the things that I will probably be doing over the next few days Ill call a friend to say hello as I do have some that are also on their own; do some cooking which I love or just find a nice film to watch or read some of my current book. My philosophy is you have to take control of your life and try your very best to make the most of what you have, what you can generate around you and you’ll be surprised as what comes back to you.

 

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