Loneliness And The Solitude Of Aging
Solitude is a choice, but loneliness creeps into your life like a dark storm cloud releasing its thunder and lightening into the essence of one’s being. It feels like bombs exploding overhead while depression and self pity sprinkle down in an endless shower of gloomy days and nights without any relief. I can have many friends and still experience solitude but loneliness is the absence of friends and family with whom one can communicate. Loneliness makes everything and everyone invisible. Nothing else exists outside its self contained bubble.
I have often written about solitude in these pages and how it fulfills my need for creative and private time, but I have only experienced loneliness three times in my life. First when I lost Kathleen. That was the most miserable time of my existence. I did not want to cope with life, nor did I know how to cope with a condition I had never experienced before. I spent many days without ever getting out of bed. All the plans and dreams we created died with her in the river that afternoon. For the eighteen months of our relationship we were inseparable. After her death, I was lost.
Many individuals came to my support, even people I did not know but I was still alone. They offered condolences, support groups, and the names of grief counselors. Grief and loneliness, I learned are often companions. My mother asked me to turn to god but god had already forsaken me. These recommendations were all possible methods for getting out of the deep well of funk I found myself in, but the loneliness was too demanding. It had taken over my life like a disease. No helping hands or rope were long enough to reach me. This feeling of being totally alone in the world lasted for almost a year before I was able to surface and breathe again.
The second time I experienced loneliness was when both my parents died within a few months of one another. Although the loss was devastating, the loneliness was not as deep nor as severe as before. We know our parents will one day die, but there is no way to prepare. The loneliness this time was different. It was centered on the realization that the number of people who have known me all my life was dwindling. The only living person remaining who had known me all my life was a brother with whom I have no connection other than blood.
The loneliness was short lived, maybe one or two months following my mother’s death. She had always been the rock of the family. She was the one I knew I could always turn to to sort out my confusion. I now had no one I could call at anytime of the day or night. There was no longer her voice of comfort, but she had prepared me for life as best she could. The lessons she taught me and my previous experience were what got me through this second period of loneliness.
And my third encounter with loneliness is right now. This current period of loneliness is different from the previous two in as much as there is no grief involved except for perhaps the grief over my own impending death if one can grieve for oneself. This loneliness is the loneliness of growing old and the ending of a blood line. The ending of the bloodline of my great grandfather’s name.
From a strictly biological perspective, our only true purpose in life is to reproduce our kind. Every life form on the planet does this during its allotted time between life and death. (Three days for the fruit fly, and some seventy odd years for humans) My brother and I both fulfilled that purpose. We both brought daughters into this world. The family name however will cease to exist when we are gone.
Until now I had never thought about this situation, but it does carry with it a certain weight of loneliness, although not the deep well of loss experienced after Kathleen’s death, nor the type of loneliness following the death of my parents. It is, however loneliness. It is the ending of my family’s history under my great-grandfather’s name.
My dear friend Karen recently shared her joy when the family welcomed their first male grandchild after five female grandchildren. As I read her announcement, the empty, hollow feeling of loneliness creeped into my being again. I realized the feeling almost immediately having experienced it twice before. Loneliness takes on many forms and appears on many different levels. I did not expect nor anticipate it would enter me in this manner.
For most of my life I have chosen solitude over the companionship of family and friends. I am, and have always been a loner. I have no regrets regarding this choice in my life.
The words of Albert Einstein perhaps describe my situation best.
I am a horse for single harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork. I have never belonged wholeheartedly to country or state, to my circle of friends, or even to my family. These ties have always been accompanied by a vague aloofness and the wish to withdraw into myself increases with the years. Such isolation is bitter, but I do not regret being cut off from the understanding and sympathy of other men. I lose something by it to be sure, but I am compensated for it in being rendered independent of the customs, opinions and prejudices of others, and I am not tempted to rest my peace of mind upon such shifting foundations.
A rather harsh reality but true of my life. As I age and approach my own death, I find more easily the solitude I fought to have in my youth. This is perhaps because I have fewer friends and family members left on this floating sphere to influence my life in any way. I am not sure why, but solitude has always been my choice. I find with aging it becomes almost a natural element of my life on its own. At the same time that solitude has become my norm, I find myself consciously working to keep loneliness at bay.