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Just One Old Person.... What is it Like for Elderly People Living Alone at Home?

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Not for one moment did you really think it would turn out this way. After all, you were always so well. You ate healthy food; vegetables freshly picked from the garden you loved. Perhaps you would love it still, if only the weeds were gone and someone could lend their caring touch. Now, though, you look out only onto an unkempt world of neglect and decay. Better to keep the curtains shut than to keep on looking out.

Not once did you think the time would come when you couldn't even write your own name. Who does think that way? Years spent penning loving words at the foot of carefully chosen cards....and yet now, like a small child who has yet to master the skills of life, the pen and your hand refuse to conform.

It makes you feel stupid; useless. Well, that's what you are, really. Your hand shakes and you can't hold it still, no matter how hard you try. Forced to ask for help for the simplest things, when once it was you doing the helping. You've always been a helper at heart - but now you can't even dress without assistance from that lady they send each morning. It's the last straw; this blushing humiliation. The final fragment of dignity, lost for good. Trickling down the plug hole as she helps you to wash. You know you will never again be able to do it yourself.

You used to draw; make tea for friends; spent whole afternoons with a jigsaw puzzle. When the grandchildren were over you would help them play their wild games. They loved hide-and-seek, and you knew all the best places. Happy laughter; warm innocence. Nothing but fragmented memories. Now, on a bad day, you just can't help wondering what it was all for. Too much time alone plays tricks on your mind. It really does. Who has tried sitting in a chair for hours on end with no one for company and nothing to do, day after day after day? Try it, and then you will see.

On good days, though, you can smile at life - if only for a while - and remember all the happy times, still vibrating inside your own heart. And of course, you are not a child. A child is like a fresh bloom in the springtime, looking forwards with dreams, hopes and passions. A child is like a sponge, ready and waiting to absorb all life has to give. You are the sponge wrung out, with nowhere left to go....except.....

You might be old, but you still have some wits about you. You know they all think it's time you left this house for one of those homes where they watch over you more. There's that place on the corner on the edge of town, where the rooms are airy and the grounds lead right down to the river. Nice, but not home. A prison, masquerading as a sanctuary. You know the score - you've still got your marbles....once you go in, you never get out.

And no one really understands. It's not their fault, they're all so young. The young might have the best intentions, but some things can't be understood until you've really been there. The point is that, here, in-between the cracks of lonely solitude and cobwebs that you know are there but just can't reach, the memories still sing quietly. For once upon a time, these four walls were full of laughter; love; fun; tears; battles, even. Each and every day. The high-pitched squeals of your own children permeated through rooms that once seemed small but now so large. There were parties; friends; Christmas hats and the smells of cooking. Mmmm, that roast chicken cooking on a Sunday afternoon, while the radio played and the cat mewed at your feet. You can't lock those memories away; you are just not ready to give up the one place that has really been home.

These days, it's only silence or the monotonous monologue of TV shows. You don't even know what they're about. It's just company; a sound in the corner of the room that relieves the deathly quiet. These days, it's only meals for one, ready prepared....somebody knocks at the door and you shuffle to greet them. Sometimes, it takes you so long you wonder if there will be anyone there when you finally turn the handle. Perhaps they can hear you coming; hear the clunk, clunk of that ugly frame. It's not even as if you look forward to eating - the taste is bland; the meat too chewy...or maybe it's you. The ability to shop; to choose and cook your own food - just another thing taken away. The simplest tasks, that everyone else takes for granted. It's the oven, you left the gas on, not even once, but twice. You can't even recall doing it, though you didn't admit it to the lady who comes in the morning. Your daughter discovered you, slowly gassing yourself as you snoozed with your mouth open in front of Coronation Street. But it was the look on her face that frightened you the was the first time she realised that you were not the strong pillar you used to be; the first time she truly understood that you were losing it.

You remember the very days when the children left, hungry for life; burning with ambition. The house became quiet, though never as quiet as it is today. Once, silence was a welcome respite, now it is only a curse. First, it was two of you, playing scrabble in the little conservatory. So important to keep the brain working...although in the end even that can be bittersweet. You took turns to make the tea; basked in a comfortable quiet that was never there before. You even went abroad a couple of times, it was as though the world was your oyster. For you, though, there really was no place like home. Garden centres, walking the dogs, visits from the children, their boyfriends, partners, husbands. Grandchildren, that melted your heart with warm-hearted innocence; laughter like gold; tears pure and simple. Just the tapestry of life, woven together, from beginning to end.

And even the grandchildren are grown in New Zealand, the other in London. When did you last see them? You can hardly remember. Just after Christmas, for a couple of hours? That was the one in London, the New Zealand one didn't come at all. He says he's got a camera thing....for the computer. It's a whole different world now, so many times you feel you're on the outside, looking in with muddled confusion. Anyway, people are busy these days. Busier than they used to be. Everyone has their own life. One can't be selfish, but only remember days gone by with fondness, when community was more important than money; when people didn't complain if they were poor.

You chugged along for a while, just the two of you, making the journey from young lovers to middle-aged best friends. Love makes many changes in life; the hot thrills of youth make way for a happy companionship. That was how it was for you, before the illness ate him from inside and snatched him away. You tried not to complain - after all, fifty years of marriage? It's more than one can really ask for. It's more than many couples manage today.

And do you know how worthless one can feel, when so many simple things turn into mammoth tasks? Or when you answer the phone and, try as you might, you can't follow the conversation. The words are too fast and your ears not so good....but that doesn't mean you are stupid. You only wish you could tell that to the stranger on the other end.

Do you know what it feels like to fall between the four walls of your own home; to lie there for hours with thin bones hurting against the hard floor as your body defies you? A small pool of your own blood, for do you know that skin can stretch so thin that it can barely hold you together? Like fragile tissue paper, it rips open with every knock, every scrape. Just another hurdle.

And there are so many thoughts, such feelings of helplessness. You are alone, and the phone which sits laughing but metres away, might as well be in another world. You wonder when someone will an hour, two hours, three? If you'd had any sense, you would actually have worn the panic alarm you were given - after all, that was the point of it. It's just that the alarm makes you feel useless; like you just can't manage and it's time to give up. Perhaps you will spend the whole night just lying there, as the light fails and dusk turns to dark....and you can't even reach the light switch.

Let me tell you a secret....sometimes age creeps up on you, even when you have the naivety to think you have beaten it. One moment you are dancing like a butterly through the melodic evening of life, the next you realise that those legs will never dance again. Now, the dancing is all inside your own heart, for unlike a body, a heart can be any age. A heart contains everything - all the people you have loved; the places you have been; all that you've seen. They say you shouldn't live life through others, but for old people like you it's all you can do. A story from a loved one's life can almost be your own.

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So you cling on to the stories and relish the days they come to see you. It means so much. It's all you have.

And sometimes, as you peer through the old net curtains that have seen better days, you see them strolling down the road - youngsters with noisy attitudes, kicking, swearing, blanking out the future...and you wish you could tell them that when you are young, life seems so long, but really it is so very short. You have to make the most of it, and embrace it with wonder and hope.

About This Hub

This hub is fictional, but based on some of the problems and feelings of isolation experienced by the elderly today. More and more people are living well into old age, and yet the very nature of our society means that they often experience high levels of solitude. Relatives have often moved away, or are consumed by other responsibilities such as work. Often, elderly people are still living alone in their own homes, even though they struggle with mobility and with every day tasks. Perhaps they might have intermittent help from carers, but still life remains hard and only deteriorates over time. Unable to leave the house alone, the lack of freedom and inability to fill time with activities can lead to depression. Topped with common accidents like losing balance and falling (after which getting up again is often not possible without help), day-to-day existence is fraught with anxiety. Injuries from falling can be slow to heal - the skin thins, meaning that even the most minor accidents result in bleeding.

I have drawn my perspective in this hub from my own family; in particular my late grandmother and two great aunts, still living in their own homes at the ages of 99 and 92. All three have lived alone for many years, after being widowed - my grandmother spent the last twenty years of her life, until the age of 97, without her husband. Although she did have family who loved and cared for her, daily life became hard (the fact that she was partially sighted made it even more difficult). However, she was an independent woman who did not wish to move into a residential home. Behind the curtains of many windows, up and down the country, are other people just the same.

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peachy from Home Sweet Home on January 13, 2015:

great hub, i must say, it must be very lonesome. both my uncles stayed at old folks home until they passed away, very lonely and sad

Polly C (author) from UK on February 10, 2014:

@georgescifo - Yes, you are right. Families have become more fragmented and therefore people rely on care homes more than they might have done in the past. Part of the issue is the fact that family members are spread out all over the place, so there is no strong core in place where elderly relatives can be cared for at home. As families in the UK, we don't seem to do such a good job as other countries in our care of the elderly - I do not know how India compares. Today I learned that Filipinos are wonderful at looking after their ageing family members.

Thank you so much for reading this hub and for sharing your views.

Polly C (author) from UK on February 10, 2014:

@Harishprasad - Don't apologise for getting carried away, you have written a beautiful and thought-provoking comment with a lot of spiritual depth. You are right - no one can escape the precarious circumstances that will come at this stage of life, and that is why we must live our lives to the best of our ability when we still have our futures laid out before us. Then we can look back with happiness and without regret.

Many thanks to you for stopping by to read this hub and to share your thoughts. Peace to you, too :)

georgescifo from India on February 09, 2014:

Most of the family bonding are very weak in the current scenario and elders really get isolated from others. This is yet another reason for the rapid growth of aged care homes and these days it is flourishing as a major business opportunity.

Meanwhile, also a lot of thanks for this heart touching hub post.

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on February 09, 2014:

Polly C, though this hub is imaginative, you have based it on lives of real people. Nobody can escape the precarious cicumstances at that advanced age. However, one who has lived his life purposefully and gained wisdom in his mind after having experienced ups and downs of life, is not afraid and disgruntled with life. Since he is satisfied that he has lived life full with all passions and enthusiasm till the warm racing of blood in his nerves ; he willingly accepts the detachment and renunciation that life has presented now. And, of course, all through his life, he willingly used to give thought to this future that has now turned into the present with all hardships and weakness. He tried his best in his youth to enjoy his life full aware that future life would be very different and difficult. A man in an advanced age with minimum regrets is a strong minded and contented person. Having lived a carefree childhood, why regret now in the youth ; having savored love and passion, why regret now in adulthood ; having accomplished some success with all your strength and intellect, why regret now in old age ; having found the other shore of the spirit, why regret for life itself. You have mentioned Yoga. Yes, Yoga is helpful to some extent but we cannot escape the eventuality or old age and preparation should start now, this very moment. I liked this hub with all my heart and soul as this has a great message for all us to live our life with all discretion and mirth lest we would be regretful later. Thank you very much. And sorry, I was carried away with the powerful force of contents of this very well-written hub. All peace !

Polly C (author) from UK on March 26, 2013:

@ Silkekarina - hi there, thank you so much for reading my hub and sharing your thoughts. I'm sorry I sent a shiver down your spine! I wrote this piece based on my own relatives who were in their 90s, but if it's any consolation they spent their 70s swimming, gardening, entertaining and going on frequent holidays to Spain. It was not until they were about 90 that a gradual decline set in.

Since I wrote this hub my two great aunts had to go into a residential home and one of them has died. The other is now 100 years old but doesn't have a good quality of life anymore. Personally, I have reached the conclusion that I would not like to ever end up in a care home, but of course we cannot know what the future holds. I think that appreciating every day that we have is the best philosophy - for everyone, young or old or in-between.

I think keeping the mind active is so important. It's great that you are working part-time earning money from your writing. I also think having something to focus on, that you really care about, is important for keeping your spirit happy. I saw from my aunts who ended up in the care home that they gradually gave up focusing on anything, they even stopped watching TV and reading. So basically, they were not doing anything at all except sitting all day, not even mixing with the other people who lived there. And that is not a very healthy way to be. I like to think that when I reach my later years, I will still have interests and some kind of aspirations, because that is what fuels my love of life and I would never want to lose it.

One of my goals - which I admit to not following through yet - is to take up yoga. I watched a TV programme quite a few years ago on which a 91 year old lady completely amazed me. She was so agile she could stand on her head and shoulders and seemed about 30 years younger! She had been doing yoga for years and it had kept her very youthful.

Anyway, thank you once again for reading, and welcome to hubpages!

Jean Valerie Kotzur nee Stoneman from Germany on March 26, 2013:

I have only just discovered this hub because I am relatively new to Hubpages, but it has sent a shiver down my spine. I am 15 months short of seventy, (I can't believe it) and I am also now without my partner. I am active, I have turned my love of writing into a part time job working from home and I get involved in as many social activities as possible, but for how long? They say that old age creeps up on us, but believe me, it comes in leaps and bounds. I can only say that keeping your brain trained and your muscles active helps against cell degeneration and consequently, having to say goodbye to independence too early.

Polly C (author) from UK on November 16, 2011:

Hi Alastar, thank you for your compliments, much appreciated :)

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on November 16, 2011:

I'm glad you wrote this from your perspective PollyC. Very touching, and very good.

Polly C (author) from UK on November 15, 2011:

Hi seedplanter, thank you for stopping by and reading. Yes, it is so important to remember that every elderly person was once young with many facets to their lives. A real person, with real feelings - I think your wonderful comment just about nails it. I'm so pleased you liked it:)

seedplanter on November 13, 2011:

This story reminds me so much of a column I read in Time magazine many years ago. A woman in a rest home had tucked a letter under her pillow and then died. She wanted the world to know that she had been a teacher...a friend...a sister...and so on. Very touching, and also a message to caretakers everywhere: Pay attention. I am a real person, just like your loved ones.

This story touched my heart. I'm so glad you wrote it.

Polly C (author) from UK on November 12, 2011:

@wordscribe - thank you for your wonderful compliments. I think it is very true that the memories of struggling fade with time and leave one with the true essence of the person they were. I too have so many wonderful memories of my grandmother - she did not look like a strong person because she was very petite and partially sighted (in fact registered blind, even though she still did have limited sight in one eye), but she was definitely strong inside. I actually think it was quite remarkable that she managed to live alone until two weeks before she died, with very little help.

Thank you for sharing the story of your own grandmother - alzheimers is such a terrible thing, and often even worse for relatives. I fear my great aunt (my grandmother's sister and someone I have drawn on a lot in this story) has begun to suffer from it as she is acting very strangely at times. It is difficult to watch people you care about become lost in a world of confusion. But we must always remember the good times, and the whole journey. Thank you once again, I really appreciate your comments :)

Polly C (author) from UK on November 12, 2011:

@barry - I hope everything is ok with your mother, it must be a hard place to be, watching your own parents grow old. I haven't been there yet, but I would be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it, after watching other members of my family descend into old age. Thanks for reading :)

Polly C (author) from UK on November 12, 2011:

snakeslane - thank you for taking the time to read and leave such a great comment. I just felt drawn to writing it, for some reason - and you are so right in that it is a very real subject that needs attention. So often, reality remains hidden behind closed doors - often quite literally when it comes to the elderly. I wrote only from my own perspective based on the lives of my own relatives, so I am just pleased that other people relate to it for whatever reason. Anyway, thanks once again for stopping by :)

Elsie Nelson from Pacific Northwest, USA on November 12, 2011:

Wow, Polly. This is beautiful and has stirred up lots of memories of my grandmother, both good and bad. She was one of those highly self-sufficient people, like the protagonist in this story, whose life was ravaged by Alzheimer's. In a lucid moment one day (they were almost nonexistent), she looked at me and said "I hope you don't remember me this way." As time has passed, the memories of her struggles have indeed faded and have been replaced by the healthy, thriving woman she was. Beautiful!

Barry Rutherford from Queensland Australia on November 12, 2011:

It's reminding me of my mother right now !

Verlie Burroughs from Canada on November 12, 2011:

This is written with such empathy Polly C, but never sinks to maudlin or sentimental, such a well crafted piece on a reality that needs so much attention. Good work, I am so glad I found this. Regards, snakeslane

Polly C (author) from UK on November 11, 2011:

mijfarns - thank you for reading, your comment means a lot since I attempted to write from a place I have obviously not yet been, but can only perceive. I have drawn on my own limited observations, but having you point out that it reminds you of working in the nursing home helps me to feel that I have hopefully got it right. Thank you :)

mjfarns from Bloomington, Illinois USA on November 11, 2011:

I used to work in a nursing home, as a nurse's aid, and the imagery of this story really brought that experience back to life for me. Nice job!

Polly C (author) from UK on November 11, 2011:

Hi Hello,hello - thank you so much :)

Hello, hello, from London, UK on November 09, 2011:

Thank you for such a wonderful reflection. A great work.

Polly C (author) from UK on November 08, 2011:

Hi Dallas, thank you for your wonderful compliments, and for reading :)

Dallas W Thompson from Bakersfield, CA on November 06, 2011:

Wow! What emaginery, what emotions you expressed. Fantastic! Awesome!

Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on November 06, 2011:

Pausing, almost any reply may be deemed facetious, wondering if I should try. I am empathetic, remembering the day I passed out walking to my bedroom, only to awaken with a bloodied nose, much time having passed, then there was the testing and no answer ever came. I look out my window now, upon my garden, writing of this or that, but the words above, though a short story, tells of a lifetime and how wondrous it is.

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