Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Loneliness A Chosen Condition?

I heard a new term yesterday.....Chosen Loneliness.  A radio talk show host used the term and it got me thinking.  I'd love your input on this one.  Is loneliness a chosen condition?

My mother is 89.  She was always an outgoing happy person, a leader in the community, efficient, get the picture. I always thought she was the perfect mother, could do it all, loved me beyond measure.  She is still very healthy today by most standards.  A little short term memory, not terrible.  A little change in critical thinking, not totally necessary.  It is very hard for her to walk, almost impossible.  She must use a walker and her gait is typical of a very old person.  Even getting in bed and straightening out the body is hard work. Thankfully, she has no pain to speak of.  Even so, life is a real struggle for her now.  She sees the glass half empty...always.

An angel of a caretaker comes in five days a week, makes meals, provides company, drives, and generally keeps things in order.  We all love Elaine to death.  Mother also has household cleaners every few weeks who love her and give her a kiss when they leave.  They are definitely part of mother's village.

Mother's home is in a nice "subdivision" of smaller homes, where most resident are retired and many are her age.  She is alone from 6:00 PM until 9:30 AM when she wakes us.  She sleeps really well and long.  Very near mother's home is a brand new, state of the art Senior Center that has everything you could imagine except a pool.  It caters to the entire town of over 60s, not just the old and unfortunate.  This is a cool, happy place.  Original art lines the walls and Chef Michael prepares lovely, healthy breakfasts and lunches.  A charming gentleman in a golfcart meets you at your car and takes you right to the door.  I know because I've taken her several times, enjoyed lunch and a movie.

Hence the problem.  My mother is incredibly lonely.  She wants "someone" at home with her all the time.  This "someone" is either my sister or me.  My sis lives 4 miles away.  She has a life and a husband, or at least tries to.  I am a little over an hour away, and I have a life and a husband too.  We get the phone calls almost daily.  "When are you coming?"  The knot tightens in my stomach as I just left 3 days ago!  It seems wrong to me.  And I will go again very soon.  

How much is enough?  Between the two of us, mother's daughters hit probably 15 days a month "being there" in person plus daily phone calls. We go out to eat, take a drive, and generally try to help her have a normal life.  When we are not there, every meal is considered and arranged.

Resentment sets in.  The phone rings.  You don't want to answer it.  The guilt slams hard.  She was always there for me...maybe even too much sometimes. It's not a question of love.  That is a given.  Smothering, enmeshment?  Maybe. It's never enough.

Oh well, invisible blogger friends, this is where I am.  I'm wanting to agree with this radio personality that "lonliness is chosen" but is it true in this case?  Tell me what you think from wherever you are.  I'd love to hear some different perspectives.  Have you been there....yet?  Am I being selfish?  Help!!!!!


  1. I do not know your mother, but my husband and I recently tried to be a supportive roll in a ladies life who had recently lost her husband and her children lived away. She is in her early 60's. Though we are not her family, we tried to include her, etc. However, it is never enough. She even began to get angry if I did not call at a certain time. I say all this to say....she made me feel guilty, too. I finally had to give it to GOD. He showed me where I had enabled this person. We are to be there for our love ones and do those things you know are the right things to do, but we also need healthy boundaries. You can not physically be with your mom every waking hour and she does have a network of support around her if "she chooses to use it." She may never choose to use it if the guilt on you and your sister continues to work. The hard part is setting healthy boundaries politely. I will be praying for you.
    Blessings, hugs, and prayers, andrea

  2. Oh, I don't know. I don't think it's unreasonable that she looks forward to your visits and wishes life were as it were when her family surrounded her. It's too bad she dwells there so much.

    I'm sorry to hear about the guilt, I think it goes with part of the package sometimes in these situations. I don't think that's wrong either.

    Life is so complicated, is it not?

  3. I can sympathize with you but am not there yet. I remember before my Grandfather passed he lived in a retirement community set up like apartments and I was shocked at how social he was because he was never that way growing up. Maybe he just hit his stride...I don't know.

    I'm not sure lonliness is's harder to make friends as you get older I know that.

    I'm sorry that you feel the guilt..I agree that it does seem to be part of the package as parents get older and need more help.

    I'll be thinking of you and your mom and hopefully there will be a solution soon. :)

  4. i'm very close to that situation myself. my mother lives alone and i know she wants to live with me and i'm thinking i probably have to because we can't afford the assisted living. but will it drive me crazy? how much can i take? i feel guilty feeling this way. i know she's lonely, but i think it's healthier for her to make her own friends and have her own activities. i think the same should go with your mom - she needs to have her own circle of friends instead of relying on you two solely. loneliness is a good thing if you choose to be that way, but my mother didn't choose it, and doesn't know how to live by herself. that's the problem.

  5. Miss Sandra,
    It is time for me to leave my normal persona behind here.
    My mother is 86, has advanced dementia, she calls at all hours of the day and night, recently to inform me that the lady that left the children there has not returned to pick them up. They are stuffed dolls.
    I buy her food from the deli pre-made and cooked, so she won't burn the house down.
    She was a very active out door woman most of her life and is still active outside.
    Chosen loneliness is not an option, mt grandmother lived to be 102, when she was 89, she told me, she hated having an active and thriving mind only to be trapped in this body that will not allow her to carry on with the activities she loves.
    Mothers, always expect one of the children to be on call.
    They know something is wrong but they can't quite figure out what it is, they only trust us, their family.
    My sister lives within 30mins. and see my mother maybe twice a month, while I on the other hand live within
    two miles, and talk to her many times daily.
    It is not worth the time or energy that you spend fretting over the situation.
    Chosen loneliness is a fact of life for the elderly that have dementia, their fear of what they do know and what they can't figure out, keeps them in this state of flux.
    They will blame any one and any thing on missing objects, things out of place, and say things like, oh yes I knew that, but really they do not have a clue.
    It is YOUR choice on how much time you wish to allow her to capture.
    It sounds to me like she has a very good support system in place already.
    That should be about enough from me.

  6. Thanks everyone. We all have different perspectives...and I have all those thoughts and feelings on different days! Just needed to unload this morning I think. Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers.

  7. thanks for the information. they were not veterans, but could probably get some help. it's the small space i have (should we decide to live together) makes me wonder: which one of us will go crazy first? :) hang in there for your mom's sake.

  8. I originally come from the sub continent and from where I come , We keep our parents with us, Look after them 24 hours a day..If one didn't have time or had to attend to someother chores , another sibling took over.People usually have a caretaker living in the house to take care of the parents..We have relatives visiting them at home to keep them company.My Dad is 76 and lives with my youngest sibling.She works full time but has arranged a care taker for Father while shes at office.Fortunately my other siblings live within close quarters.( but this is possible because most of our womenfolk are stay at homes and it's the men who are the breadwinners) So we have the time and the ablility to care for our parents.Amen!

  9. Wow. This is a hard one.

    It's amazing how some cultures wouldn't think twice about this and move the mother in. Your mother may be lonely for her daughters, whom she knows genuinely love her and will take care of her.

    I don't think we'll understand aging until we get there - God willing. My mother is in her late 60s, has her husband with her and two daughters and four grandchildren in the same city with her, but she calls me wanting me to come visit so she can cook dinner for my family. I live 2 1/2 hours away. I think it's funny, but she loves to be surrounded by her family. I, on the other hand, choose BEING ALONE - not lonliness (smile).

  10. Aynzan, that sounds like a wonderful aspect of your culture. That would work for me too if I lived closer. Would love to have mother next door so I could look after her. That's close enough though for me. Thanks for sharing for all of us to read.

  11. Thanks MomsWeb. I'm your mom's age and I love seeing my family too AND I love having my own life. I remember being so happy when mother and daddy could take trips, go, do, have fun. I think children LOVE to see their parents happy and enjoying life and when it's not that way anymore it gets sad. Enjoy your "alone" time. Me too.

  12. I had almost the exact situation with my Mom. There were plenty of activities she could have done, but she claimed she wasn't a "joiner" and wouldn't leave the house until finally she couldn't leave the house due to health problems.

    She always wanted my sister and I to come and spend time with her and we did as much as we could, but we were both career women with busy families, so we did what we could and shrugged off the guilt as best we could. I think it's just a phase they go through when they get that age. I'll probably be the same way, but I've got SONS, so I'll be lucky to see them once in a blue moon!

    I have to say though, now that she's gone, I sure wish we'd spent a little less time on work and hobbies and lot more time with her. It's been five long years now and I still miss her every day.


Love to hear your thoughts! What do you think?