May 212012
 
fear of being alone in old age

What will you be surrounded by when you’re old?

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.

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.

If you’re scared of getting old, 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.

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…

About Me

quips tips love relationshipsI'm glad you're here! My name is Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen; my husband Bruce and I live in Vancouver, BC with our critters. We can't have kids, and are learning to accept whatever life brings - both good and bad. I have an MSW (Master of Social Work) from UBC, and degrees in Education and Psychology. I hope you say hello below - I can't give relationship advice, but writing can bring you clarity and insight.

  4 Responses to “How to Cope With Being Alone When You’re Old”

  1. Dear Laura,

    Thank you for being here – I appreciate your honesty and willingness to share your life.

    It sounds like you’re coping with a lot right now – not “just” aging! There seems to be so many negative, disheartening influences in your life right now. And you’re young! I don’t think you look your age, because you have a 44 year old boyfriend :-)

    I’m curious – what advice would you give the “younger” you? If you were to talk to yourself when you were 20 years younger, what would you say?

  2. I am terrified of being alone. I am 58, haave been told I don’t look my age, but have no way to gauge this, only that I look in the mirror and see this old woman and it scares me so bad I won’t look in teh mirror. I try to connect with the church, but there is no faith there. It’s all hogwash and petty politeness. I am severely hearing impaired, and I have visited churches with deaf ministies as I have been a teacher for the deaf and know fluent sign.No connections there and have to travel long distances in a car that could break down any minute. Catching the bus is an option, but I’ve really gottaa be committed to doing this. For some reason, hard to drag myself away from TV, leaving voicemails no one ever answers, dealing with with mental illness, brought on by years of being in traumatic abusive family.
    I am dating a 44 ywear old man, who is himself digging his way out of horrid financial dilemna. he can’t give me alot of time, because right now, his number one priority in life is to get himself on track, following a very traumatic series of explosions in his personal and financial life. I tend to rely on him, and put all my energy into dissecting the relationship because I live in a very negative place: a home for the elderly. I am disabled and the widows here are about twenty years older than me.
    For the fist time, I am experiencing constant pain.
    My daughter is a drug addict who is a felon. My sisters don’t want me. Never loved me, and have been violent towards me. I have so many issues that I can only stand in amazement that I wake up alive everyday, and for awhile there, writing a book that I made myself do until the pain hit two weeks aago. I’m going to a doctor, but that’s awful, health insurance for disabled pople is not good in this country and doctors can be so unkind. So, I love this guy, but he is focusing on himself and may not be there for me in the end, although he says he does.
    Getting back to the man I am dating,who says he loves me and put a little diamond on my finger that his grandfather ahd for many years and he found for me when I kept asking him for it—dear God! However,he has so many wonderful qualities. He is kind, honest and faithful. However, he is caught up in himself right now and self centered as a way of coping. If I let people do it, they tell me to get out of the relationship. I listen to all these opinions, instead of focusing that He doesn’t have enough time to spend with me and haas alot of time, left on this earth, compared to me. I have too much time, and not as much time left. So wee are at opposite poles. Breaking up with him is not going to do any good, cuz I am going to go right back to him in the end, and not going to solve the problem. I want to think he is going to be there for me and will undig himself and be with me one day. I tmay never happen, it may. i have no control over this.
    , I don’t know how to fill up the emptiness when he is not around. I need a support network. Where do I find people who like me? It amazes me that Doug loves me. Or says he does then I doubt it, and I really go around and around.
    Now, youhave it. Isn’t that ridiculous? this is my life. Dear God it sounds like a dull, bad, scary nightmare. Who wants to come near me? I am a boil getting ready to burst. Geez!

  3. Hi Sabrina,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment! I agree that a church family makes a huge difference to coping with being alone as we age. I’ve been part of a church for most of my life, and have loved all the families that have come and gone out of my life :-)

    How do you know you won’t be living with a companion – or be married if you don’t believe in living with a partner before marriage – when you’re “older”?

    If you’re an active woman with a healthy social life, you won’t die in your apartment without anyone knowing. Build connections into your day, so if something did happen to you, someone would know.

    Although, come to think of it, I could spend a week alone and not miss human connection. I love being alone! Maybe I should be the one worried about dying and not being found for days…. ;-)

    Blessings,
    Laurie

  4. I really enjoyed this blog entry. It tells a lot of truths about aging and being alone. Sometimes I do get afraid of aging alone. Not so much due to lack of companionship but for more practical matters: what if I fall ill and no one is there to help me. My biggest fear is dying and no one finding me for days on end! Mind, I try not to dwell on that, but I’d be lying that I haven’t wept at the idea of ending up like that. I think of maybe moving into a roomate situation but then you never know what you get with that, and while my daughter and I do get alone, I don’t wish to be a burden to her as she does have a family of her own now. Fortunately, I do have a good church ‘family” that makes a lot of difference. At any rate, I’m happy to see someone out there adressing these very real issues regarding aging.

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