Anyone living alone will tell you that it's a curse. Nothing can be worse than solitude. The silence of the surroundings can often be killing. With no one to share one's joys and grievances with, the lonely person often suffers from depression.
In Bangladesh we usually have strong family bonds and support, which saves us from the curse of loneliness. But this scenario is very different in developed nations. In such countries, most people are very busy with their regular jobs and household chores. People hardly have time to spare for others. No social visits or sudden drop-in surprises, not even some chitchat over the phone. My friends living abroad often complain of loneliness. Although they possess posh cars and fancy houses, deep inside, the feeling of loneliness haunts them constantly.
I see many people living alone. I see my unmarried or divorced friends, old relatives whose spouses have died and whose children are busy with their own families. There are lots of lonely hearts around.
The problems and complaints of most lonely people are similar. The most common yearning is obviously the constant need for companionship. Man, being a social animal, feels the need to share with others and have people who care. One such lonely heart recently commented, “Even birds flock together and animals move in herds,” she stopped to sigh and added, “but I am alone”. An elderly lady of 80 lamented, “Soon I will die and none will even notice or miss me till I start to smell”.
Lack of security is another big concern. Since they live by themselves, they constantly fear robbery, theft and other physical assaults at home and outside. Some believe that living alone makes them an easy target. The victim of loneliness also fears being the victim of crimes.
There is no one to take care of them when they fall sick. No one takes on the responsibility of such tasks like taking the temperature, measuring blood pressure, making sure that medicines are taken on time, and accompanying them to the doctor. Life becomes quite miserable at such times and people realize how loveless they have become.
My friend who shares her single room apartment with her seven-year-old daughter complains that her daughter is growing up in a lonely and unhealthy environment. Lack of companionship is making the little girl unsocial and turning her into a TV addict. She feels that her daughter was a happier kid when her father was around. She ate better, studied harder and was more disciplined and manageable. The mother fears that the unhealthy upbringing will bear severe consequences for the child in future.
Many husbands live abroad for their occupation while their wives live here alone. Wives keep themselves busy with cooking, shopping and socializing. “I feel widowed most of the time,” comments one such wife while another laments that she doesn't feel like cooking just for herself.
Divorced people face the problem of loneliness along with its social stigma. Society is used to seeing people in pairs after a certain age. Just because someone is alone doesn't necessarily imply that one is lonely and thereby in distress. Divorced people find themselves in the centre of people's gossip and attention. Young people are constantly harassed by people trying to hook them up with someone suitable.
There are still others who opt to stay alone. There are some who never want to get married or remarried, and some elders don't want to live with their grown-up children. Marriage is an option, a choice that an adult makes. Just because a person has reached a certain 'marriage bracket' doesn't mean that he or she will now get married. Some want freedom and want to live life by their own terms, and others who consider marriage some sort of a burden. Many elderly people choose not to live with their children's families fearing that they will be seen as a burden and be neglected in their last days.
We have the responsibility of caring for someone who lives all by him/herself. Just a phone call or social visit can go a long way. All that needs to be portrayed is that there is someone who cares for them. Just because they live alone doesn't mean that they are alone. Children should constantly visit their lonely, elderly parent and help them with their grocery shopping, or with their visits to the doctor. Children living out of the country should make frequent phone calls and visit their parents once every year. Relatives could make frequent social visits and invite them over the weekend or for the whole day.
Lonely hearts often do not show just how lonely, helpless and loveless they feel. Just a little effort and time from others around can go a long way to comfort them.