The Winter Of Life

“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”:

[Screen capture of BBC web site.]

First, comparing loneliness to cigarette smoking as dangerous health issues is to me – to be blunt – idiotic. For one can stop smoking. On the other hand, loneliness is often beyond our ability to address.

Second, lonely people often hardly give a damn about their physical health. Theirs is a mental issue. They often don’t want to talk about it even with family, let alone with strangers.

Pardon my snippiness on this issue: it’s very personal to me.

Among some, yes, it may largely be a question of socialization and accepting an offered hand. Naturally any of us may feel at sea and by ourselves for a variety of reasons – a relocation, a loss of a job, a relationship break-up. However, it is normally a temporary situation.

[Screen capture of the BBC web site.]

One group, though, are beyond anyone’s reach because what they feel is incomprehensible to the rest of us. Theirs is not a temporary condition because it results from a finality that remains beyond our earthly ability to reverse. More likely than not, it cannot be solved by the person joining a gym or a church group.

A grief counselor at the single group counseling session my dad had attended (and I had gone along to support him) following my mom’s death in 2015 told those of us around the table – there were about a dozen people, mostly older women, but a few older men – that there is no answer to grief other than forcing oneself to think about something else and doing something else. However, many insist on doing the same things they did with the deceased as a way of “not forgetting” them. He asserted that only makes their absence even more painfully felt.

He urged those present to remember that their living families and friends care about them and grieve for the deceased as well. As surviving spouses others will latch on to them as a connection to the deceased whom they miss too. And that is a useful way forward to combat loneliness and grief – support others in their grief as a way to alter a routine and also keep the deceased “alive” and not spend all your time thinking about your own loss.

Naturally, that isn’t easy. None of this is. As the saying goes – because it is true – one can feel lonely sitting in a crowded room, surrounded by others who care about you deeply. People do die of broken hearts, the counselor added…

…because the single person who had mattered the most in this life, is no longer there.

My dad hasn’t been good at supporting anyone else. His view is evidently that I have my wife and we have our life. He does appreciate being thought of; he told me yesterday over Facetime that he had just received a letter for Christmas from my eldest nephew here. I could see my dad was moved by that, yet despite regular outreach like that and desires that he come visit, or do this with them, etc. (my dad has always been one of the most popular members of our extended family), he simply cannot envision himself living differently than he had lived with Mom and insists on backing away from people reaching out. He is entirely uninterested in altering his daily routine and is doing exactly what the grief counselor had suggested those grieving NOT do: he avoids new experiences and people like the plague because he doesn’t want to create memories that don’t include my now late mother.

As my dad has also told me more than once: “I laugh, but I’m never really happy. I’m done living. I would never harm myself, but I wish I was dead.” You might understand how my hearing that from him makes me feel. Over two years on, my mother’s ashes sit on the mantelpiece above his lounge fireplace. My instructions are that after he dies his remains are to be cremated too and I am to bury both of them together somewhere in New York State. (My mother wished to be buried in New York.)

However, I wish my father would bury her now, first, so that we have finality for her at least. But he will not part with her ashes. So it will be left to me someday to bury BOTH of my parents simultaneously – and that I shall have to face that emotional horror has in no way dawned on my father, consumed as he is by his own loss and loneliness.

There is simply no government program that can do anything about a situation like this; it is as old as time, death and eternal separation. It is a uniquely personal trial. We shall all endure a version of it someday – if we aren’t enduring it already.

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