This is an article about two older women in New York City and loneliness.
BY Aubrey Hammack
(Published September 17, 1991 in the Upson Home Journal)
Loneliness is something that all of us know something about. I am sure that we all go through periods of it. I can experience loneliness just as well in a crowded room as in isolation. Sometimes it seems to even be a close friend of mine. There are times when it sort of pulls at your heart in such a sad, blue, painful, gut wrenching sort of way.
Overhearing a conversation on a New York City bus on the Sunday before Labor Day stirred from within some emotions concerning being alone.
First of all, because of the proximity, although I was eavesdropping, I really had no choice. I must admit that a part of me did feel guilty for listening though.
Two older ladies, probably in their late 60s, who were good friends, both widowed and living alone in apartments obviously in Manhattan, were discussing their loneliness. One of the ladies told her friend that she had guilt buying shirts and sweaters for her son because he told her she was still buying gifts for his father.
That was interesting, because I can see how a widow would preserve a certain closeness to the man she had loved by buying gifts that he would have liked. Probably it helped her to feel closer to her deceased husband and someway; somehow, it brought closeness between the three.
Many times I wonder what it is about humans that just can’t allow people the satisfaction of accepting things that people want to do for us without always attaching a reason for it.
The other lady stated that she had knitted a sweater for her son for Christmas last year. He did not like it and told her so, but when she asked him if he would wear it, he said maybe. I guess he felt guilty about the hard work that had been involved in making it so he broke down and wore it.
He later told his wife of several compliments he had gotten about it. His daughter wore it to school and suddenly a sweater knitted by this loving mother became extremely popular.
On of the ladies then proceeded to touch a very sensitive chord with me. As the ride stretched on, and it was a long one from near 14th street, she spoke of being lonely.
As she told of another widowed friend who lived in some sort of older adult high rise, she spoke negatively about the living conditions. She said she would not like to eat in a cafeteria or have to see the same people day after day in some gameroom. I could understand what she was talking about.
As ironic as it seems, she evidently felt her friend was giving up too much of her personhood in such a situation. She enjoyed eating alone at times, but made it quite clear that she needed someone to talk to at breakfast.
She then said that her son had called her the day before and asked if she wanted him to come and visit her. Obviously she sensed by his question that he really didn’t want to come, so she told him no, that she had plans. This was one of the saddest things that I have heard a loving mother denying her loneliness and a son not really wanting to bother with an interruption in his life.
I’m guilty of it with my 85-year-old father at times, and when mother was alive, it happened then, too. The conversation between these two delightful old ladies made me more aware of some of my own inadequacies in the area. It also made me miss my mom and think of how fortunate people are that still have theirs. I am really glad that I took the bus on this day and uncharacteristically was able to keep my mouth shut. It is amazing what we can learn when we just listen.
There are many factors that contribute to loneliness. We need to be especially more aware of how loneliness and aging fit together. If we live long enough no doubt we will be alone. So if we educate ourselves to what we can do to make others less lonely, then perhaps when we reach this stage someone will do the same for us.