I came back from a very fulfilling trip to the U.S. last week. I always receive a warm welcome from my friends Bill and Jude Thomas in Ithaca and they’ve made me feel really part of their village community. It’s the same when I join my best pals in Sydney, I’m instantly absorbed into their family life. It’s feeling part of a family community that makes me feel loved and worthwhile, knowing that I have something to give in return. Bill calls this ‘reciprocity’ – easy for him to say – but he’s right. Sharing, giving, helping each other, and feeling part of a tribe is a primeval instinct.
On my return to the UK my mother shared some sad news, her friend Enid had died. Over the last few months Enid had withdrawn further from social activity, slowed down considerably and wasn’t interested in any of her old pastimes. This worried her close friends but there was nothing they could do to keep her engaged. She had reached 88-years of age, which some will no doubt think is a good innings, but she’s had a tough life. Her husband died over 35-years ago and, while she still lived in the family home, she’d had no close companion in all that time. My mother thinks Enid had enough of being on her own.
Enid’s story would resonate with many across the country. This week we heard about the high numbers of older people calling Silver Line because they were lonely or isolated, with half of the 300,000 callers saying they had no-one else to talk to. One lady, Dorothy Mills who was widowed after 58 years of being happily married, told the BBC that loneliness was the hardest thing to bear.
“You can’t see it or smell it. But you feel it. Loneliness is like a deadness.
“It’s a feeling of being abandoned,” she says.
“The hardest thing is eating alone and the flat, dead nights… there is nothing worse than trying to eat a meal on your own in my opinion.
“It seems to bring it home to you.”
It resonates with me too. I’ve now been widowed for three years and today (26th Nov) is my 20th wedding anniversary. I’m not yet 50 and the prospect of living alone for another 30-40 years fills me with dread. It’s great to visit NY state and Sydney, and to be part of my local community in Cheshire, but it is grim opening the door to an empty house especially now it’s dark so early each evening. Hector does a great job of companionship, but we can’t really socialise over a meal or share banter of the working day.
That’s why it’s so vital for me to have a sense of purpose and that’s why I believe Evermore is essential for single older people who crave being part of a family community – where we all look out for each other. We hear a lot about people wanting to stay in their own homes and I completely understand that. I will always want my own front door, my small dog and a bit of outdoor space. As I grow older and stop racing around at the same pace, I know I’ll want to have the company of similar folks over dinner to share stories. I’ll still want to be independent, coming and going as I please, but also warmth, voices and a welcoming meal when I open the main door. Nourishment in every sense.
So I’ll take time to reflect this week on my 20th wedding anniversary. I was lucky to be married to a domestic God with a brain the size of a planet who was universally adored by all who met him. When he died he reminded me of all the great holidays, funny moments and fab meals we’d shared together. I may not be able to have Stephen back but I can focus the next 30-years on building our Evermore community so we never feel helpless, bored or alone. Together we can still #LiveHappy.
Sara Mckee, Founder & Director of Market Innovation
Follow Sara on Twitter @SaraMcKeeFRSA