It's a Tough Time to be Alone
But We Can Find Meaning by Reaching Out to Others
By Dave Mishur
Holidays can be difficult for those who are alone. I know, for I am alone this Holiday Season.
I lost my wife a little over two years ago, after having spent 55 years together. We have one son, who lives about a hundred miles away. Of my family of seven, only I and one sister survive. Nephews and nieces are spread throughout the country. Such is the state of many families today. We go where the jobs are, where we want to retire; we split apart.
In years past, when my family was intact, there were massive holiday dinners, great home cooking, and it was a major accomplishment to be elevated from the children's table to sit with the adults. We soon found their conversation was just as silly and ridiculous as what took place amongst us kids.
And there were arguments sometimes, harsh words, egos hurt and hard feelings. These things happen when people who seldom see each other are suddenly thrown together and expected to play nice.
Despite missing the happy memories and mom's unparalleled cuisine, I was happy to be by myself this Thanksgiving Day.
But I am an anachronism, a dinosaur. I read books, I listen to music, I do crosswords, I don't watch television. I have a cat, am in relatively good health, and I have friends. My Thanksgiving Day included a Martini, a glass of wine, a Roast Duck dinner, and was peppered with texts, calls and emails from a dozen friends and relatives. Indeed, I was not alone. But I am one of the lucky ones.
Today I saw an elderly woman, perhaps even more elderly than I but it's hard to tell these days, who, in the process of digging out a quarter to rent her cart at the local Aldi store, dropped her wallet and spilled its entire contents on the sidewalk. Not blessed with great agility, she struggled to pick up the various credit/debit cards, little key fobs and other odds and ends that coagulate in our pocketbooks. Old people are not supple, and sometimes not steady on their feet.
But I am supple and steady on my feet, so I was happy to assist this nice lady with her travails. After retrieving all her debris, she thanked me and, with mutual good wishes, went on her way into the store. I followed.
This was a nice exchange, and made me feel good, as I had helped someone in need. I was happy to do so, and would be even happier to do it again.
There is a growing disparity in age groups these days, due to the less than replacement level of births in our country. To maintain a steady population a nation needs a birthrate of a little more than two children per woman. We are currently somewhat less than that, a little shy of two, in fact, which means, without immigration, our population will eventually decrease.
We are, however, much better off than many other countries. Europe, and especially Japan, are on a downward spiral, while Islamic nations, which favor large families, are growing. This age disparity is world wide, with many countries having more people over 65 than under 21. This does not bode well for the future.
What this means is that there are a lot of older people who are alone. And I mean, unlike myself, really alone, like, there is no one to care for or visit them.
Many years ago, when I was a newspaper columnist, I wrote about our "County Home." It was no different from what most counties had in the old days: a place for those who, for some reason or other, just didn’t have any place to go. I saw many old folks (I was not old then) sitting idly, staring blankly into nothingness, impervious to the reality around them. I wanted to shout "Where are their families? Their friends? Why are they abandoned? Why does nobody care?"
Adjacent to the Home was the Poor Farm Cemetery, where these folks were interred when their earthly sojourn came to an end. It is still there and I visit it regularly. It is a quiet and peaceful place, surrounded by fields of corn and soybeans, but redolent of rich ancient memories of hundreds of souls, each one of whom I guarantee has a story that will tear your heart out.
Those in the cemetery are at peace. Not so among the living.
Every day I see wandering souls who are just as lost as those in the County Home or Poor Farm cemetery. They roam from place to place, and often from bar to bar, seeking some sort of meaning in their lives. They are not pretty, nor fun, and sometimes smell bad, although they may be highly intelligent.
They are often ridiculed, shunned, and rejected by people who are no better off psychologically or mentally but who have the money to assuage their vacuity in liquid refreshment and idle chatter before a glaring, often mute TV screen.
So, here we are on this Thanksgiving weekend and I ask myself: Can you be alone without being lonely? And is it possible to be alone even when you are surrounded by others and doing mindless things? And which is worse? Or better?
Today I thank God that I was blessed with the opportunity to reach out and help another person who was alone and in need, and, at my age, I am fortunate to have the ability to do so. I hope someone will do the same for me if and when it becomes necessary.
If you keep your eyes open someday you will probably come across someone like that nice lady at the Aldi store.
And when you do, give her a hand.