Mostly, accept the fact that it’s a slow path back. You might meet rejection on the way. But staying alone and lonely is no way to be. It’s worth it, to gear up and find the courage to go forward. None of the above suggestions are easy. Sometimes the loneliness, though devastating, is also comfortable. Change is always hard. As the saying goes, “The misery you know is more comfortable then the heaven that awaits.” Going out of your familiar circle is frightening and making friends in our older years is never easy. But, if you want to change your life, you must put in the work. No one can do it for you.
Last week, in a response to a letter, I wrote about preparing for loneliness. Since we are the only one with whom we will spend the rest of our lives, the odds are that we will be alone at some point. As spouses die or marriages dissolve or children leave home, loneliness resides with us. The best way to deal with loneliness is to prepare for it. Never allow yourself to lose friendships entirely or lose interest in things, not just people. This goes a long way to helping one cope with loneliness. But what does a person do who hasn’t prepared? As many have found, those who have dedicated their lives to their children “awakened one day” to the fact that the children are all gone from home and involved and too busy with their own lives to make time for them. Or perhaps it is a person who has had to cater to a sick spouse for years and during that time has lost all contact with everyone but his or her spouse. He has even lost touch with his own needs and wants. How does he deal with the loneliness? Or perhaps it’s a couple whose sole life has been each other and suddenly one is alone. How does a person cope with the terror of loneliness?
The first step is to acknowledge that you are lonely and accept that it is a normal part of life for many people. You cannot change what you don’t accept. Being alone for most people is devastating. A person who may never have had to make a decision before suddenly has to deal with making all decisions. The fear of being alone at home at night or alone when you’re sick and need support is horrible. Or just the loneliness of an empty nest makes many people feel such a loss, that they find functioning difficult and feel that life has lost its meaning. Accepting these feelings as normal is the first step toward changing them.
Don’t wait for people to see your need for companionship and come to the rescue. As much as we wish that we did not have to do the work – and it is hard work to change the place we’re in – we do have to do it ourselves. It is often helpful to discuss your feelings with others in the same position. That’s where grief support groups may come in if you have recently suffered a loss. You can usually find them at local JCC’s or community groups. If you’re alone because of a recent empty nest, talk to others who feel the same as you. There are many in your peer group just hoping to have someone to talk to about their feelings. It is just human nature for everyone to be afraid to be the first to speak out. Seeking out people in similar circumstances may be the first step toward change for anyone who is lonely.
Use the suddenly available time on your hands to volunteer. Volunteering not only eases the loneliness; it also helps you meet new people and gain new skills, and it raises the self-confidence that your loneliness may have eroded. Meeting other volunteers goes a long way to solving the problem of loneliness. Call your local Gemach or volunteer bureau and ask how you can help. Tell them what you like to do, and they will match you to someone who needs your skills. Hospitals need volunteers to rock babies and play with toddlers. Schools have children who need to be read to.
“Tomchei Shobbos” often needs packers and people who will deliver meals and spend a few minutes with the elderly and ill. Help brides choose their gowns at a gown gemach. Help with simchas at a Gemach party. Become a foster parent or grandparent. Jewish foster homes are badly needed, and those that do take in children need the volunteer grandparents to take the children for a few hours once or twice a week. Volunteering for those less fortunate can also put your loneliness into perspective and make you feel more blessed and positive about life.
If your grandchildren live far away and have computers, learn how to correspond with them through e-mail. A whole new world will open to you both, and you won’t have to wait for that two-minute “Good Shabbos” phone call on Friday to connect.