This blogger’s mini-survey (meaning multiple interviews) indicates that most of us who live happily enough by ourselves got there by way of a rugged trail. It wasn’t our first choice.
Early on we discovered that living alone and truly liking it probably is rare, and that a significant toughness along the way is absolutely necessary if we’re to find contentment. At the same time, we’ve learned how to deploy proven guidelines to success, and a level of satisfaction has emerged.
To illustrate: Vi Peterson, my neighbor at Augustana Apartments in downtown Minneapolis, said her husband passed away 10 years ago, however, “I can still have a happy day,” she said.
Across the hall, Oliver Olson, age 93, formerly a Lutheran pastor and founder of The Lutheran Quarterly, remarked, “Learning how to live alone usually involves some adjusting, some accepting of things that aren’t comfortable. That’s life.”
Three years ago I was living alone in my single-bedroom apartment when my wife passed away. At first, in grief, plus the hard work of learning how to live alone I experienced long afternoons followed by long evenings that were both lonely and emotionally painful. I began to attend Sunday church services more regularly, connected more intentionally with family and friends, read some good books, listened to music, and eventually the emotional pain lifted. Still lonely at times, the pain of it is gone.
Another resident commented that her marriage of many years became two separate lives, each going separate ways. “So when I actually became single again I already knew how to live alone,” she said.
Visiting briefly in the take-out lunch line in our resident dining room, 102-year-old Miriam Manfred, lovingly called “Mim,” answered my question about how to approach the challenge of living alone successfully: “You just have to keep on keeping on.” Mim’s husband passed in 2011 and she has lived alone since. She exhibits a positive disposition and often plays the piano for singing groups. About being 102, she remarked, “I just wish folks wouldn’t ‘advertise’ it so much.”
Joyce Mack, 63, a resident and the receptionist at Cornerstone Assisted Living in Plymouth, Minnesota, was widowed when her husband died 11 years ago. “He was 18 years older than me.”
“Living alone has been a major challenge,” she reflects. “We were together 25 years. The first thing I faced was fear of not knowing how to manage when things break down, like the car. So I asked relatives and friends for help, plus I learned how to do a few things myself, for example how to air up the car tires.
“With our life insurance settlements I paid off the mortgage on our house and became better off financially.” Eventually, Mack fell and broke a hip, and moved to Cornerstone. “But the longing remains,” she says.
How does she deal with it? There is a sign by her apartment door that says, ”Bloom where you are planted, be the best you can be.”
“I try to do that,” says Mack. “Things have become less painful.”
James Hennen, age 80, said he overcame his youthful shyness by moving to Cornerstone and becoming known as the “Candyman.” He acquired the name by regularly distributing candy treats to residents. “It’s hard to live alone, hard to pick up the phone and ask someone to come and help,” he says.
A friend at my church says several ideas and guidelines have helped her adjust to the loss of her husband eight years ago:
- Moved from her house to an apartment and there made new friends.
- Got a dog– “a living creature to provide ‘the snuggle factor’ and that gets her outdoors regularly.
- Eats out often.
- Hugs friends whenever it fits.