Dying from Loneliness

I glanced a headline in The Times as he read it at breakfast. Something like 10,000 more deaths this year. Is that the elderly? I asked him. Yes, he said. Was it the cold? Yes, that and the lack of hospital beds and loneliness. They die of loneliness? I asked. Can you die of loneliness? I asked again. Yes, he said. Really? Yes, he said.

It’s not really loneliness, as such. It’s not the specifically the want of company, its all the stuff that goes with it. The neglect of oneself, the lengthening of days, of having nothing to live for, I suppose. For I can only suppose. I watch them at the home, intently. Most sleep. Some stare out of windows, into space. Some wander about. Some with coats on ready to go out. Why do they never bash on the locked door, fight their incarceration? Do you think they sedate them? I asked him. Though how he would know, I don’t know. Some, maybe, he said. For their own good. One that he knows, sits in the office with the staff with his hat and coat on, acquiescent but perhaps ready for the off if it arises. It won’t. They have company in there. That is they have the cheeriness of the staff, and the other residents. They have bodies around them, people tending to their physical needs. But they don’t have loved ones. They don’t have intimates. Is that it? Is that what we die of, the lack of people knowing us, and our story? Was he lonely? I don’t think so. He had regressed, gone back to a childish time. We caught him crying once. He talked of his grandparents. Later he sang songs. He was locked-in. No, he died of the disease. And she? She certainly fell fast when they separated them. He was a rogue, possibly. And he smoked and interrupted her regular habits. But he was company. She believed in him, he filled her day, made her feel useful. Her senility came on fast when the family separated them. They thought he was after her money. Maybe. She didn’t mind. And then when she was in the home it was harder for her to hold it together. He was forgotten. She made another male friend in the first home. How could she not? She was charm itself. But then they moved her and he was lost to her too. She died of a stroke. Not loneliness. I loved her. I loved him. But in the end they were lost to me and I was lost to them. She is almost a hundred, the lady downstairs. She isn’t lonely. She lives with her son and her large, sprawling family visit often. And she has the church. She is strong, walking into town every day wearing her jaunty hats. Constitution and mental attitude must play a large part.

You know the man in the wheelchair we saw when they were having that service at the home? he asked. Yes, the one with the orange socks, I replied. Well, he died. He’d been singing and playing catch ball the week before.

Maybe it is just time. Time to go. Have can we assuage another’s loneliness. We talked to her last week. Over and over. Replying anew to every thing she repeated. Did you? Did you? So much so that she wanted to come out with us. Can I come with you? And was hurt, anxious when we had to say no. Your daughter’s coming, you have to wait for her. Is she? Such subterfuge. It can’t be done. Heartbreaking, he said. Heartbreaking.

I’m trying to see small. To focus on now, what is in front of me and to let the rest be. Let it be. Let it be, I chanted to myself as I walked. Let it be. The rain was heavy on my umbrella. Let it be. I walked in a puddle. Let it be. The rain is relentless. Just let it be. I’ve only time to do an hour’s work before I must go out. It is enough. Let it be.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.