Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Meaning and Loneliness

I'm struck by how lonely so many older folks are, particularly those who are single.

My father-in-law, who became a widower last year after 55 years of marriage, still lives in their three-bedroom, two-bathroom gated-community home with living room, formal dining room and family room and with full backyard and garden. He lives 400 miles from us.

He does well compared to most seniors. He swims at the Y weekly, plays golf several times monthly, and attends church most Sundays. He cooks for himself, and is regularly invited to family barbecues and special occasions.

But Dad watches TV for many hours each day. He waits desperately for people to call or visit him, yet he's wholly uncomfortable reaching to others. He refuses to learn the internet.

He's alone. He's lonely. And no real idea of how to be happy, or even what happiness might be, without his wife.

We have a sixty-something neighbor who spent the last ten years taking care of her recently deceased mother.

Our neighbor, a avid quilter, is not employed, and was divorced decades ago. Her son and his family live nearby. She sees them at church weekly, and they stop by at least once a week. She has a brother in the area, too.

She, too is lonely and usually alone. And she, too, seems to have little grasp of how to lead a more involved, people-friendly life, or to move beyond her small world.

I feel genuine empathy for them. But I also wonder... are they fulfilled? Do they believe they live meaningful lives?

And I think... what if I was single again? Kids grown and gone. No full-time employment responsibilities. Would I, too, spend my day watching TV, exercising and dabbling at my hobbies?

Or would I reach out to find more meaning beyond myself?

It's odd... I fear leading a meaningless life, focused on ME, more than I do being lonely or alone.

Does a person feel lonely when their life has meaning?