Don’t wait until you’re “old” to cope with your fears of aging and being alone! Here’s how to build a life of peace and happiness, whether you’re 45 or 95.
First, read This Is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging with Humor and Dignity. Susan Moon writes about being an orphan and a matriarch following the death of her mother, how she regrets the past, how not to be afraid of loneliness, and how to regard “senior moments” as opportunities to be in the here and now. It’s a fun, insightful book that will bring acceptance and clarity to anyone who is afraid of aging.
This quip summarizes my tips on coping with being alone in your twilight years: “It is astonishing how little one feels alone when one loves.” ~ John Bulwer.
Love, connection, solidarity, and togetherness is what banishes feelings being alone when you’re old. You don’t need kin to feel loved, you don’t need biological children to feel connected, and you don’t need family to feel united.
All you need is surround yourself with people you like. If you don’t like to be surrounded, then have coffee or a glass of wine with someone once in a while. Or take music lessons, join a MeetUp group, or start a book club.
And here are a few tips for coping with being alone when you’re old…my favorite one is to be like a caterpillar…
How to Cope With Being Alone When You’re Old
I’m writing this for T.S., who left the following comment and question on my article about coping with being childless:
“I am slowly coming to terms with the probability that my husband and I will not have biological children….we have spent more than $150,000 on fertility treatments that have gone nowhere. I am now in my late 40′s and the reality of the situation is finally dawning on me. I found comfort in your insights and advice, Laurie, and I agree that a positive attitude and enjoying life to the fullest regardless of whether one has children is the way to go. But one thing that bothers me, that I just can’t come to terms with, is the prospect that my husband and I will end up being old and alone. We are both only children and have no family where we live except for my aging parents. When they die, we will be on our own. I’m terrified of being incapacitated and unable to turn to loved ones for love, company and support. I am equally worried for my husband, that should I die first, he will have to endure this fate as well. I wonder if you have any thoughts on this and how to best deal with this possible scenario? Thanks, T.S.”
The most important tip for coping with the fear of aging alone is to remember that you’re not alone! SO MANY of us are orphans or estranged from our family members. SO MANY of us are scared to be alone as we get older, even when we’re surrounded by loved ones.
Last week, a reader asked for help coping with her husband’s death – she’s elderly and can’t envision life without him. So I wrote Starting Over in Your 60s – After Your Husband Dies. She has children, but she still feels alone, lonely, and afraid in her senior years.
Getting old can be scary – but we don’t have to let it overshadow the best parts of our lives. And, we’re not powerless — we don’t have to just sit back and worry about being alone, ill, or lonely when we’re old!
I hope these tips help you cope with the fear of being alone as you age…
Having children is no guarantee of NOT being alone when you’re old
My 40 year old sister hasn’t talked to my 68 year old mother in over 10 years, and I don’t think that’ll change before my mom dies. My mom didn’t do anything wrong or bad – she is mentally ill, but she certainly doesn’t deserve to be cut out of her daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives! No matter how many children you have, there’s no guarantee they’ll want to talk to you when they’re grown.
And, even if your kids like you, there’s no guarantee they’ll live in the same city, state, province, country, or continent as you. My husband and I live in Vancouver, BC; his parents live in Edmonton, AB. My dad lives in Jerusalem, Israel. My mom lives in Saskatchewan, and my sister is out working on the oil rigs in the wilds of Canada. I haven’t heard from her in three years. Maybe more, I can’t even keep track!
Biological kids or not, there is no guarantee you won’t be alone in your old age. Many seniors and baby boomers are alone even though they have adult children, because their kids are living their own busy lives. Adult children do not necessarily mean that older people aren’t alone – their kids may be homeless, imprisoned, or physically or emotionally unable or unwilling to be family.
Create your own “family” – don’t count on kin to keep you company in your old age
If you don’t want to be alone in your old age, now is the time to start making friendships and building ties that will last long after you’re dead. I think that having biological kids is probably the least effective way to ensure you’re not alone as you age! There are too many unknowns. What if your child is physically or chronically ill from birth onwards? What if your child passes away before you do? What if you get divorced, and your child prefers your spouse to you?
Instead of counting on kin to keep you company or take care of you during your twilight years, start making connections with people you wish were your family. Non-family relationships can be deeper and easier than family relationships, because they come without the baggage of the past.
Never let one person or thing become the center of your life
If you only have your spouse to rely on and something happens to him, then you’ll be lost. If your career is your primary source of fulfillment and you lose your job, then you’ll be more alone than you ever thought possible – and you won’t even be that old! If your children are your only source of fulfillment and they distance themselves from you, then you’ll feel like you’ve lost everything.
To cope with being alone in your old age – to cope with all of life’s ups and downs – create a strong network of love and support. Cherish your neighbors, colleagues, old friends, hobbies, activities. If something happens to one of the most important parts of your life, then you’ll have the other ones to gain comfort from.
Pretend you’re a caterpillar: the more legs you have, the less you’ll notice if you lose one.
If you’re wrapped up in your relationship, read my tips on finding your self-identity when you’re in love.
Be a Big Sister – maybe you’ll grow from volunteer to family member
One of the best ways to cope with being alone in your old age is to volunteer! Spend time with an at-risk youth who needs a mentor, a positive role model, through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization. I was a Little Sister when I was 11 years old; my Big Sister changed my life. We’re still in touch to this day – 30 years later! She changed my life…and she never had kids. She lives inToronto, and her family lives here in BC…and I see her once a year.
I’m a Mentoring Coordinator with Big Brothers of Greater Vancouver, and I always hear my volunteers say that their friendships with their Little Brothers went from volunteering to family. I’ve applied to be a Big Sister, and the caseworker said the same thing: your relationship with your Little changes – it’s not about volunteering anymore.
Sometimes the relationships you make when you volunteer can be deeper and better than your family. Of course, there’s no guarantee – some matches never really click, or they fade away as the years go on. But, if you’re scared of being alone in your old age, why not be conscious about the relationships you’re building with people?
Take old age one step at a time
Yes, being elderly, infirm, and incapacitated is scary and maybe even awful…but unless you’re there now, there’s no point in worrying about it. Like T.S., I don’t want to end up sick and alone in my old age. But it could happen, and there’s not much I can do about it right now…other than connect with people I like and respect, volunteer to build meaningful relationships, and enjoy each moment as it stands.
And I’ll work on my caterpillar impression!
Also — stop focusing on what you’re afraid of. Instead, start thinking about How to Get a Life You Like.
If you have any thoughts on being alone in your old age, please comment below…