We humans are pack animals. We need company, the companionship of other humans. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity. And when it disappears from your life, as it has disappeared from mine, that hurts.
As a widow, I know about the loss of my closest companion, my late husband, Desmond Wilcox. It’s why I took part in the Channel Four programme, “First Dates”, hoping to be matched with someone who might provide me with the company I lack, (it didn’t work out that way, alas).
I know, too, from the million calls to The Silver Line helpline which launched in November 2013 that I am far luckier than many of the older people who ring us. Most of our callers tell us that apart from The Silver Line they have literally nobody else to talk to. Many are disabled, and are virtually imprisoned in their homes, in solitary confinement. They feel intense, physical loneliness.
So how dare I complain? I have my health and strength. I am a volunteer for a number of charities and that is hugely rewarding. And I still work, so that I have enough money to give myself, and others, occasional treats. But (and please forgive me if you think I am whinging and self-pitying) I still miss the companionship I used to have.
I know that many others share my feelings, especially older people, who are used to being surrounded by people, their family, their work colleagues, and now find themselves far too often alone. I often quote a definition of loneliness; I have plenty of people to do something with but nobody to do nothing with.
It’s the happiest times when the pangs hit me. I no longer go on holiday on my own, because even the most beautiful beach seems like a desert to me with nobody to share it. I love the theatre and the cinema, but it’s no pleasure for me to go on my own. So what I miss most is companionship.
The Difference Churchill Makes
When I visit Churchill developments, as I regularly do, I am always struck by the happy atmosphere. I believe there is a lesson to be learnt, as a society. Stop regarding down-sizing as degrading. Staying on alone in the family home may be right for some, but it’s not the best way for everyone to grow older comfortably and safely.
Governments and local authorities should encourage builders like Churchill who create excellent developments for older people. But there is also a message for older people themselves. I hope you will be brave and honest enough to admit if you need company, and to reach out for it.
There are some wonderful organisations, like the RVS, or the University of the Third Age, where you may find others whose company you really enjoy. You may even find a new companion you can do nothing with. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? The Silver Line Helpline is free, confidential and open 24/7 on 0800 4 70 80 90.
Dame Esther Rantzen DBE