Sunday, February 18, 2018

Prepping as we age--social isolation and loneliness

“My last friend died last week. I don’t know one single person on this earth anymore. Not one.”

As a human being I read that story and my heart aches for that man. Not just because as a person I feel for him, but I have seen elderly people in my family and Mrs. Freeholder's family who had similar feelings. Nothing will take the wind out of your sails quite so thoroughly as your father looking you calmly in the eye and telling you that he is ready to die.

He was quite serious. His wife, my mother, had been dead for a bit over 3 years by then and his health was deserting him. I could see the signs that the end was approaching, and I think he could as well. He passed on, quietly, before another year was over.

As we grow older, we are warned to guard against many different things. Be sure you don't outlive your money. Be sure you have medi-gap insurance. Be sure you rethink your house so it's easier and safer to live with as your physical abilities change.

Exactly how can you be sure that you don't outlive everyone you know?

In some ways, that was what happened to my Dad. Sure, he had me, the only child, and my wife. He had his grandkids, who he loved very much. And that was pretty much the sum total of the people he had left on this earth. He had outlived everyone else in his family, or lost track of them for various reasons. His friends were mostly dead. Those that weren't were caught in his situation, physically unable to drive safely. None of them could carry on a phone conversation because all of them couldn't hear very well. (Winning World War II  carried a lot of prices, one of them being the hearing of the men who were on the front lines.) He didn't really know his neighbors except to wave at them if he saw them, and that happened infrequently.

I visited several times a week, we took him out to eat at least once a week (or as he became less able to get around, brought it in to him) and I called the remaining days. But that isn't much of a substitute for a social life.

It's been documented as far back as 2013 that social isolation and loneliness can be deadly to senior citizens. Continuing research only confirms that finding. I have no doubt in my mind that it contributed to my father's willingness to die. I don't think it was so much that he wanted to die, really, as it was he didn't want to keep on living the way he was living.

Even being 30 years younger than he was when he died and in much better health, I can understand. Having retired early, my social life has been rather dramatically scaled back--you don't realize how much of your life revolves around your job until it doesn't. And I had nothing ready to take the place of my "friends from work".

Unlike my Dad, I am quite computer and Internet literate, and spend probably too much time in front of a computer. While it might have opened up something of a new world for him if he had chosen to open himself up to it, it's already a part of my life, so it isn't going to add anything to my life. To the contrary, I've recently been cutting myself off from the so-called "social media", finding that it is nothing but and OCD gratification loop and a time suck when you have nothing to keep it in check for you, like a real job.

I do have my hobbies, and while they do have their social sides to them, they aren't the sort of thing that gets you out of the house a lot, except to the range, and it's pretty hard to have a conversation with earplugs in and firearms going off randomly around you. Those of you who have hobbies that are more social, keep them up. They may well be a life line as you age.

Having caught up a bit on the comings and goings at SurvivalBlog last night, I caught myself wondering how this particular concern will work out for the hardcore prepper folks who have relocated to the "Redoubt", where humanity is spread rather thinner than it is in my location.

The consideration my wife and I have been giving to moving toward larger concentrations of humanity rather than away from them (Heretic! Burn him!) have in part been driven in part by this very concern. We're looking for things to get us out of the house and out among people--concerts, ball games, exhibits of various sorts. All the things that as preppers or wise individuals concerned with our self defense we've been striving to avoid or minimize all these years. It feels...odd and alien. I haven't lived in an urban area in well over 20 years, and the concept makes the muscles between my shoulder blades tense up. Still, it's something that needs to be looked at. Aging in place isn't going to be good if it also ages you prematurely.

Fortunately, I see no danger of my turning into some lonely, wizened old man just yet. I'm looking around to see if there are jobs that I might jump into in a part time fashion, or maybe some volunteer opportunities. There is a VA hospital nearby that may need a hand. There are also a couple of small museums that might need a docent.

Let's not have any of us not knowing anyone on this earth.

2 comments:

SciFiJim said...

As I approach retirement myself (end of next year) I have been looking at choices that I have to make concerning what to do. I had a rock solid plan to finish my degree in computer engineering, until about a year ago. I then realized that no one would hire a late 50s year old man with a fresh degree. They all want young kids instead.

Now I am at loose ends about post retirement activities. Continuing to work in my present job is getting increasingly more physically difficult as I age and is not really an option. I need to find something outside the home instead of becoming a lump, just not sure what yet.

The Freeholder said...

Jim, you've hit my nail on the head, except I've got 30 years in the IT biz. No one wants us old guys.

As far as finding something outside the home, I'm beginning to wonder if we're looking in the wrong direction, sort of. Maybe we need to look at a business that we run from home. Maybe something that fits in with the prior career, or maybe a hobby that we make into a business.

I was listening to an Art of Manliness podcast a while back, and he was advocating that every man needs a side hustle. I think there's a lot to say for the concept, especially in terms of as we get older. That side hustle could become your retirement career.