We were unable to attend the funeral of an old friend, but visited his wife recently. She told us about an event that had clearly been full of joyful memories, the sadness mixed with celebration. The last ten years or so of Kenneth’s life were marked by poor health and five of those years he was confined to a wheelchair. Much of that time he stayed in the house, visited by the members of his large family. ‘He wouldn’t join anything’ his widow said.Is it true for most men that we are not natural joiners?
He was fortunate to have had a remarkable family, but apparently most children find it harder to relate to their ageing fathers than they do to their mothers, and when there’s a phone call from one of them, instinctively their fathers say ‘ wait and I’ll get your mother’. (I’ve done it!). When a life comes to its end, research suggests that one in five adults feel guilty about not seeing their older fathers more regularly. But how do you relate to a lonely man, when your own life is so active and different? I read of one enterprising son who advertised for a drinking companion for his lonely father, and it worked.
One way out of the problem.
What is it about older men? Is there some truth in the assumption that they are not as naturally sociable as women and that whereas work was once your way into talking with other men, when you are retired there seems nothing much to talk about? The policy officer at U.K.’s Help the Aged organisation says that for at least 400,000 men ‘loneliness is their constant companion’. Since 2004 there has been an increase of 21% of men living alone, whilst the equivalent number of women has increased by only 1%. In this country there are over a million men over 60 who live on their own.
77 year old retired agony aunt Claire Rayner says its easy to get out of the habit of being sociable, and advises older people to accept any invitation that comes their way.
She sympathises with older men who have lost their wives. Often wives are men’s social secretaries, she says, making things happen for them both. Men alone must somehow motivate themselves to keep things on the move by themselves.
But if men find it difficult to make friends with other men, what about women friends? I read in ‘The Guardian’ recently that one man who lives alone is visited regularly by a woman who cleaned the house when his wife was alive. ‘We don’t have much in common’, he says, she likes the royals and I don’t. She always reads me poetry and I can’t stand bloody poetry. But she’s very important to me. I depend on her to take me everywhere, and I’m very grateful to her. She’s the other half of my life in a way’.