Lonely. The word hit me like a dull blow down the phone line. For a man of his years to admit to loneliness to someone he had not met and hardly spoken to before seemed beyond belief. I know elderly men: my grandfathers and their peers don't 'do' emotion, and would balk at sharing them - even with their nearest and dearest, let alone a stranger.
I had a conversation the other night with a gentleman in his 50's, who also admitted something similar. That he suffers from "loneliness". I was so sad upon hearing this. Vulnerability always does that to me. Moves me in inexplicable ways. A lot of us get lonely at times, yet we are often too afraid, or too embarrassed to admit it.
My sessions of talk therapy back at university helped my story telling. Every week, I'd walk through one of the colleges, past the restaurant where students were sitting and laughing with each other, past the duck pond where the college cat was watching hungrily from behind the bushes, to a door tucked away behind a wall -- Counselling.
For decades I didn't feel like I belonged anywhere. As far back as I can remember, it was difficult to "fit in". My mother was always saying "Why can't you be more like this person or that person?" I wondered that, too. I tried as hard as I could but somehow, it just didn't quite work. I didn't think like other people. And I was often misunderstood.
There are concerns: fears about inauthentic relationships, particularly with respect to end of life care. Our acceptance of introducing human-like but not actually human helpers might qualify as an infringement on personal dignity. So, the next step should be targeted attention on specialized 'bots that will be able to assist and care for older adults.
For many guests the happy occasions of spending one afternoon per month having tea with a group of older guests and volunteers, are the only cross on the calendar. Contact the Elderly would like to draw public attention to what complete isolation feels like and what people can do to help solve the problem.
One of the great challenges within an ageing society is maintaining connectivity between the generations. Far too much of our society exists within a silo mentality, and that is also true when it comes to issues of family geography. With our global economy, many family members are often geographically isolated from each other - potentially connected only via digital communications.
One huge fact that we will never reveal is that we are lonely. We are often on the outside looking in, looking in at both society and our own child, unable in a way to reach both. We are isolated from society due to our caring role, lack of financial support and understanding. We are isolated from our child as we are never truly allowed 'inside'.
Reading and hearing reports in the media each day, it is impossible to deny that there is increased awareness of the issue of loneliness and isolation in older people in the UK. Since I founded the charity 49 years ago, Contact the Elderly has been actively involved in combating loneliness, providing over a million face-to-face friendship links via our monthly tea parties
Indeed, love probably means as many different things as there are people - from the unselfish care of a Mother Teresa to the heart-pounding passion of star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet. Yet with Valentine's Day upon us it's the romantic variety tugging at our heartstrings, especially if we lack that special someone to share it with.