A recent study found that loneliness is worse than smoking 15 cigarettes a day for a person’s health. Loneliness and social isolation are public health issues that affect more than one-third of adults, with seniors at higher risk for depression, substance abuse, and increased health issues.
If you add taking care of a person experiencing an illness and the guidelines to isolate because of COVID19, you have a strong case for loneliness. Then there is a deeper loneliness, as well. The loneliness that occurs when you “lose’ the person you shared your life with. That is what I grapple with. My husband and I are seniors even though we don’t like to admit it. We are social isolating and he has dementia. I provide the primary care at this point. We met when we were 12 and got married when we were 19. He was my love!
We shared special times, we raised two children and two grandchildren, we plotted and planned together, and built hopes and dreams. We were a team and best friends. Today, his body is here but his long- and short-term memory are gone. He no longer remembers those times or his family.
We no longer plot and plan, nor do we have hopes and dreams. It is more a matter of me telling him what to do and how to do it.
He doesn’t remember how long we have been married and where I stay at night. You could ask whether or not it really matters if he remembers that information. Probably, not. He does know and love the person who is me today, but the connection is gone.
My teammate and my go-to partner are gone. Instead, I make most decisions because he doesn’t understand and needs to be protected from poor choices.
I have a strong support system, a loving family, and people who support me, but there is a loneliness they can’t fill. My question is how to fill that hole. I watch his deterioration daily and each day I lose another piece of the person he was.
Maybe the loneliness will always be there because he was so much a part of my life for so long. Maybe we made so many decisions together that new ones will have his embedded input.
I played a little game with myself; thinking of a particularly lonely time and let an image come to mind. The image was a grey ghost. I then asked the ghost what it needed. The ghost said he needed to be held. How do I translate that? The memories I have need to be embraced? Maybe! Maybe, I could make a scrap book of my good memories and include solutions to problems he provided over the years.
One change I had to make was to rethink our relationship. Our marriage is different. He is not who he was, and I miss the old him. Now, I am the leader and he is the follower. I am the care-giver and he is the client.
Each person who provides care for a loved one, no matter the illness, may have similar feelings of loneliness because they too have lost or are losing the person they knew and loved. If you have found ways of managing your loneliness, take a minute to share them with us.