Joan was almost 80 when her husband died. They’d been together over 50 years, spending their adult lives doing everything together. They raised a family, pulled through times of financial hardship, dealt with his later life health concerns, all the while sustaining a strong relationship and a secure happy home.
Like many couples they’d each had their own areas of responsibility, with Joan primarily running the household. Upon being widowed she’d had to learn to deal with all the ‘other’ things; the finances, the car, arranging necessary home repairs. All outside of her comfort zone, but she persevered.
Being alone she was determined not to be a burden to anyone else and had contacted several local social clubs and groups geared to older people. She learned to play bridge, joined a weekly walking and lunch group, enrolled in classes for Tai Chi and Egyptology, attended a weekly talk with the University of the Third Age. Many of these activities were within a twenty-minute walk of her home, a pleasant bonus on a nice day.
She’d rejoined a weekly whist group and attended a musical social once a month. All in all, there were interesting social activities in her diary every day of the week, bringing with them associated conversations, relationships and friendships.
Joan had never been interested in technology and so had never learned to use a computer or get to grips with a mobile phone. The regular entries in her social diary were her way of maintaining contact with the outside world and it worked well, giving her something to do each day. Once a week she’d do her supermarket shop and then attend her various clubs.
These activities provided much of what she needed; routine, motivation, they brought order to the day, stimulus, human contact, mental and physical exercise, plus a reason to dress up and leave the house.
But now she’s in the position of finding herself with all semblance of normal life gone. A lady who is fit, elderly and living alone now has to reorient herself to a very different, solitary way of life.
Since the pandemic it’s become apparent that there are many people like Joan, people who are also ‘not a bother’ to anyone, who are elderly, fit, independent and who live alone. They have, until now, maintained a structure to their days, with various clubs and groups enabling them to lead meaningful, active, satisfactory, sociable lives.
At the start of the pandemic all these clubs and activities had to close and there is no reopening date in sight. Their members have lost the lifeline to their interesting day-to-day lives. Many will not have access to online activity, don’t want or need social services or charities to intervene, but simply need the structure of their lives to return.
Yes, they may have loving families who try to keep in contact, who may be allowed to visit with senior care franchise, but the loss of independence and way of life for older people who are living alone, still taking good enough care of themselves, who are fit and mobile, is bound to seriously affect their mental and physical ability and agility.
With their friendship groups disbanded it’s not easy to keep in touch with people who may be ‘friends’, but who in reality are only light or nodding acquaintances, people with whom they may share pleasantries. Consequently, much interest in life and the motivation to do things also diminishes. Routine chores and television can only sustain for so long!
And in the future when these places do reopen how many older people will have the courage or enthusiasm to venture back after so many months of cautionary messages and fear? Lockdown for them may well be a sentence to the end of their lives outside of their homes.
Susan Leigh, South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.