IT’S 4:45 A.M. AND another day quarantined at home. Even though I have nowhere to go, I still get up early. It’s one of my favorite times of the day. This is when I go downstairs to the kitchen, make myself a cup of tea, toast some raisin bread and read about what’s happening in the world.
Later, Rachel and I will go for a walk and then have breakfast together. This is how we now lead our lives—sequestered in the house—away from friends and family. It’s made up of insignificant daily activities: cooking, cleaning, reading and exercising.
I’m not complaining. I’m grateful that I have someone, like Rachel, to help me get through these trying times. Having her by my side makes the mundane actives more enjoyable. I enjoy cooking together. Such activities no longer feel like work. Maybe they’re right about married people living longer than those who are single.
I think about all the elderly people who live alone, without a friend or loved one to share their day. For most of them, they have a life much worse than mine. They’re separated from the things we take for granted.
When I think about my new life today, I think about my elderly mother. I now have a better understanding for how she must have felt, spending time alone in her house, not able to go anywhere, waiting for me, my sister or a friend to visit.
Maybe something good will come out of the coronavirus and we’ll learn a valuable lesson—about the dangers of social isolation and the loneliness that the elderly face. It can take a physical and emotional toll. And it’s not just the elderly who feel this pain. It can affect people of all ages.
According to a 2018 survey by Cigna, loneliness levels have reached an all-time high. Nearly half the people surveyed reported that they sometimes or always feel alone. Four out of 10 also reported that their relationships are sometimes or always not meaningful and that they feel isolated.
Friends and family are one of the best cures for this disease. If you know people living alone, this a good time to reach out to them to make sure they’re okay and have everything they need.
Today’s quarantine could be a glimpse of what our lives will look like as we grow older. But life doesn’t have to be that way. In retirement, we should take the necessary steps to make sure social isolation and loneliness doesn’t happen to us by, say, moving closer to family members or good friends.
Dennis Friedman retired from Boeing Satellite Systems after a 30-year career in manufacturing. Born in Ohio, Dennis is a California transplant with a bachelor’s degree in history and an MBA. A self-described “humble investor,” he likes reading historical novels and about personal finance. His previous articles include Lost and Found, Keeping My Balance and School’s in Session. Follow Dennis on Twitter @DMFrie.
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As someone who has already grown older, I hear you. Between the cruise ship and the time being home, I’ve been in small spaces for a long time. Not alone as I’m fortunate to be with my wife, but several neighbors are on their own.
Your last point is critical in my opinion. We could have moved anywhere we wanted when we retired ten years ago as many do enticed by warm weather or in some cases lower living expenses, but that was never in our plan, never a consideration.
When I managed pension plans and counseled retirees I saw too often the leap to the south only to have one spouse die with the other stranded away from family. But in our case our four children and 13 grandchildren are all within one hour of where we live. We aren’t going anywhere for our sake and for theirs should we need help some day.
There is one other consideration. Technology. Facetime, Skype, etc are lifesavers staying in touch. I connect with friends all over the world and with grandkids 20 minutes away. When we were quarantined on the cruise ship our daughter was relieved she could see and talk to us.
My wife and I have had more than one heated discussion (and still do) when I insist she know how to effectively use her iPhone and iPad.
Dennis- very nice article. I’ve had the experience of taking care of my parents and my in-laws as they aged. Changes happen very quickly as we age, especially our ability to handle finances. We need to keep our eyes open for changes that indicate they need help. And as we age, we need to make sure we have a child or trusted person to help us. I’m a big fan of simplifying our situation as we get older. it will be a gift to our heirs.
Comment from my mother (June Dosik): Thank you Dennis for your kind thoughts about we older folk. I live in a CCRC, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). Yes, we are a vulnerable group, but for the most part we are quite active. We live in self selected apartments of different sizes and enjoy dinner in a gracious dining room, keep fit in a state of the art gym, 3 swimming pools, and yes, there is both a Rehab. and Memory care unit when needed. We are privileged and I’m very grateful. However, you are right, the big issue is loneliness. I have a wonderful family, two children living close by bring me treats and my day is never dull — crossword puzzles, sudoku, an aerobic class, Facetime calls (spoke to my grandchild in Turkey yesterday) books and movies, etc. With all these resources there is no doubt I am very fortunate, however, with social distancing, not being allowed off the campus, eating alone and being by myself for 22 hours a day does take its toll.