How to Thrive When Aging Alone
I began to think about aging alone after caring for my parents. My mother struggled with heart problems, while my father lived with Alzheimer’s disease. Watching their decline was heartbreaking. It was close to one year after dad’s passing when the question hit me: “Who will care for me?”
That was 10 years ago. Today, I’m 65.
The U.S. Census Bureau tells us more than 27 percent of people age 65 and over live alone. One reason is because baby boomers have the highest divorce rate and lowest number of children, and as they turn 65, the numbers of those living alone escalate.
There are thousands of us on our own, and we are in good company. In my “elder orphan” Facebook group, we have over 4,000 members. We face similar challenges, like finding help after surgery or if we’re sick, affordable housing, public transportation, social engagement, isolation, and choosing a health care proxy.
The most affordable living arrangements place us in the suburbs, far from convenient shopping and accessible public transit. It can be stressful, but being fearful exacerbates the problems and leaves us disempowered.
I try to maintain a positive view of being alone. If I feel lonely, I call someone or visit a sibling or friend, have lunch or dinner out, visit the library or attend a class, or join a Meetup group. Other things that help mitigate the fear of being alone:
- Being clear about how I want to live, and what compromises I’m open to, outlines the aging alone strategy. Other things that affect my well-being are having personal space and loving what I do for a living. Otherwise, it would be meaningless.
- Understanding my needs allows me to live genuinely in a life that’s mine — and it gives me confidence, strength and resilience. It took years to appreciate my accomplishments and to trust myself. It was easier to be a people pleaser and be indirect about things I wanted; often, I felt I did not deserve my dreams. Caring about what happens in the future is what carried me through the hard times and struggles.
- Forgiving myself is essential. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that we all make mistakes. But if I spend too much time dwelling on the stupid things I’ve done, it takes my energy and lethargy settles in. So I forgive myself. The act itself turns life around and lets me head to where I want to be in the future.
- Honoring my individuality and the traits that make me who I am is life-altering. Over the years, I’ve learned to accept faults, weaknesses and dysfunctions. By doing so, I’ve learned patience, trust and unconditional love. I don’t dwell on what’s wrong. In celebrating my differences, I choose to be around people who accept me for who I am.
Learning my lessons has me looking forward to the future. It’s my hope and wish that you find courage and resolve as you look to make being alone a blessing.
Carol Marak earned a Fundamentals of Gerontology Certificate from the USC Davis School of Gerontology and advocates on behalf of older adults and family caregivers. She helped her parents adjust to growing old. Today, she deals with her own aging challenges and advocates for seniors living alone without support from a household member. Carol founded the Elder Orphan Facebook group.