As a widower, I make the effort to cultivate my friendships and acquaintances. By doing so I hope to avoid the loneliness and disconnection that seems to be pervasive.
The unfavorable outcomes of loneliness are numerous. Loneliness is associated with depression and other forms of mental illness, of course. It also is a risk factor for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and arthritis. Lonely people might be twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease. Chronic loneliness may increase stress, hinder sleep, and weaken immunity. Lonely people have higher rates of mortality. See “Loneliness” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/loneliness.
Feelings of loneliness and isolation are not limited to kids and older folks, like me, but such feelings can be more impactful for them. However, if the sheer number of internet search hits is any indicator, then it appears lots of folks are dealing with issues of one sort or other involving loneliness and feelings of isolation. And, correspondingly, there is no dearth of helpful tips and advice to be found on the internet about overcoming loneliness: join a class or a club, volunteer, strengthen existing relationships, adopt a pet, talk to strangers, eat right, exercise more, stay busy, get a therapist. See, e.g., Very Well Mind, “How to Cope With Loneliness” by Dr. Elizabeth Scott, http: //www.verywellmind.com/how-to-cope-with-loneliness-3144939.
Except for therapy, I have engaged in most of these activities at one time or another following Lee’s death, which coincidentally occurred during the height of the pandemic, predictably adding to my sense of loss and loneliness over losing her. See “Loneliness in America: How the Pandemic Has Deepened an Epidemic of Loneliness and What We Can Do About It” (https://mcc.gse.harvard.edu/reports/loneliness-in-america).
For example, I’ve stayed busy by contributing to this blog. Indeed, my very first post here described my decision to get my first dog at the ripe old age of sixty-nine. See “Please Allow Me to Introduce Myself, published (2/4/21). That this dog turned out to be my wonderful and universally beloved Lola the pup was a serendipitous turn, to say the least.)
A few months into my widowerhood I started volunteering at a local food pantry, which remains a regular weekly activity. I took certification training to become a (volunteer) reading tutor and just this week applied to assist another kid during the upcoming school year.
I have always exercised regularly. Now, in addition to my regular routines, I have taken up the very senior game of pickle ball. I try to play a couple times weekly. Through pickle ball I already have met several new folks, though it remains to be seen whether any deeper relationships will develop. Meanwhile, pickle ball is good clean fun as well as a decent workout.
As I may have mentioned here, I find it a bit ironic that following Lee’s death I have made it a point to know my neighbors better. Now that warm weather finally seems to be returning in earnest, I will be looking for reasons to hang out front where I can casually hobnob and rub shoulders with them or the occasional anonymous passerby, especially animal lovers. (As Lola has become the Queen of our block, I aspire to be its de facto mayor.) Hi, how are ya?
One bonus is that I reside in a neighborhood that is considered by many to be “hip” and therefore attracts lots of young people. Two of my young neighbors, Allie and Drew, are planning to come across the street on Friday to visit with me and Robyn over wine or cocktails and light snacks. Then, in a couple weeks, we will be hosting one of Robyn’s younger coworkers and his girlfriend, who, I have been informed, enjoy playing guitar. Nothing better than a jam session to break the ice.
I stay in close touch with my core group of friends, naturally, but also try to stay connected to lesser friends and associates. These are the folks I make a point to see several times each year. Sometimes I will simply scroll through my telephone contacts until I come across a name that catches my eye.
Yesterday I sent a message to one of these people –Judge Pete, a lawyer (now judge) I have known since we were both law pups back in the 1970s. I last saw him and Cindi over a fine dinner we enjoyed last January, right before Lola and I departed for Tucson. I chuckled when I read Pete’s reply. He said that Cindi had mentioned that she had been thinking of me that very day. He called it “karma.” I thought to myself, this has nothing to do with karma, but it could be a sign that another dinner for us is in the cards. I will follow up with Judge Pete very soon.
Next, I called another lawyer I have been friendly with for many years. I knew that he might pick up his phone or otherwise respond promptly, but also that he might not. This is just how Steve is. His lack of consistency does not bother me much, besides, I am persistent. Nonetheless, I must admit I was a bit surprised when after just a few minutes Steve called back to me. After a quick chat, we agreed to meet next week for lunch. I’m looking forward to seeing Steve once again.
From time to time people still tell me that I am fortunate to have such a rich social life. But, as you can see, staying connected takes some work. Avoiding loneliness takes work, too. In my book, the payoffs are well worth my efforts.