PaperWork: Stories from those living alone show they share a common bond

Loneliness vs. being alone.

Turns out that’s a powerful topic to talk about, which I did a couple weeks ago.

I clearly tugged on some heartstrings. My story was minor compared to the stories you shared.

The overall message that hit my mailbag was that there are many people living alone. And for many, it is not easy.

Listen to what they said:

From D.L. in Sandwich, who lost her husband a few months ago: “I feel like this is another plateau in my life. I have lost all the positions I have ever had in my life (wife, mother, caregiver and all the things that go with my previous life) and again I am starting over again.

“It’s not that easy at 82 yrs. Before the changes in lifestyle were for us, now I must find me. Who am I? Yes, I am sad, there are spaces that are too empty and people don’t know what to do with me, but home is still my haven and (he) is still here with me. … My advice to you is to take your loving wife and LIVE your lives so in the end you don’t have to say, ‘I wish I would have.’

“You don’t have to be old to die. Value your time alone and get to know yourself and when you feel lonely there are all those people out there who are lonely, too, and waiting for someone to come along.”

From P.J. of Princeton: “Your article on the essence of being lonely vs loneliness brought me to tears. I lost my husband of 53 years to COVID in 2020 and for the first time in my life, I wandered alone not only through an empty house but was navigating a lonely world.

“I went into my marriage three weeks after I graduated from college and realized I had never lived alone. It was a bleak and frightening chapter. Uncharted territory.

“Through an unexpected miracle, I have found love again. But when the night shadows come, I see the ghostly image of my husband seated in his recliner. I feel him working on projects in his office and sense him walking down the hall to our bedroom at night. There will always be a large and lonely room in my heart.”

From D.R. of Morris: “My mom recently had her beloved rescue dog … put to sleep as he was suffering from lung cancer. Her days (already grown narrow because of her own health problems) are much emptier as she now mourns the loss of this previously constant presence.

“You write about a life turned more empty after kids and grandkids get busy with their own lives. You may be surprised to learn how many people face this sort of emptiness when they haven’t/can’t find a partner with whom to spend their lives.

“Granted, I tend to make friends with introverts (and am one myself, as is my husband!), but I was sort of shocked recently to realize I have more than half a dozen colleagues (all of us nearing retirement age) who go home to empty homes after work and who never had children. A couple have started the sobering task of planning for old age when there likely won’t be anyone to help around the house or make decisions about these friends’ situations when/if they become unable to. It can be frightening to consider all the ‘what ifs.’”

From G.A. of Sycamore: “I am 83 years old and eight months ago lost my beloved partner, sweetheart and a part of me for 63 years, and five weeks ago, Rosie, the most beloved dog in the whole world, joined him at the Rainbow Bridge.

“I have had a great life, great husband, five caring and supportive kids, 12 grandkids and now a great-grandson but this loss has taken a huge piece of my heart. This is why, as you pointed out, and it really makes sense, I am not lonely, but feel so alone.”

From J.W. of DeKalb: “Having lived alone the last 22 years I know of what you speak. But hope you can do follow-up about this. Loneliness is often a symptom or precursor to depression. Urge counseling to help find inner energy, outlets and sources of interest to keep the lonely less.”

Thank you to all who shared their stories with me. Their words are far stronger than mine.

I feel helpless against such emptiness. But surely little things could help brighten those rooms full of shadows – hugs, phone calls, a card now and then, visits, and especially, definitely pets.

And new memories, lots of new memories to partner with the old.

• Lonny Cain, retired managing editor of The Times in Ottawa, also was a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet in the 1970s. Email or mail The Times, 110 W. Jefferson St., Ottawa, IL 61350.