It is the hardest, most lonely, most painful feeling in the world – and it is one I had never expected. I left the job market at age 50 or 51 to care for my parents, both of whom were disabled and who could not have stayed in their own home without my caregiving. Naturally, I had to leave behind all the friends I had made at work and in the other offices in that area. As I got into the routine of full time caregiving, I realized that I would have very little time to spend with friends, even on the telephone. So, the situation required that I pare down my friends to only the closest 4, most of whom had been my friends for 30 years or more. Even then, I had very little time to talk with them, and getting together with them usually involved seeing one another in the hospital, either when they came to visit one of my parents, when I went to visit them, and on 2 occasions, when they came to visit me when I was hospitalized. Truly, as an only child and with no other family support, my parents became my entire world, with the exception of one or two events a year. My parents and I had a very close relationship, and I adored them, even had great fun with them to the end of their lives, so not having time for any friends didn’t feel like a terrible deprivation.
I took care of my parents in this manner for the last 14 years of their lives. My father died in 2004. The GREAT shock came to me one year later when my very best friend (aside from my mother) died, too. After that, and for the next 5 years, my mother was my entire life, and she needed almost all of my attention, as she became more ill and increasingly disabled. My dear and beloved mother died in 2009, just 8 days before her 90th birthday, and just before Christmas. I was so devastated that I was not able to function much at all for the next year. No time of my life has ever been harder and more lonely.
My experience of being completely alone and having no friends hit me like a ton of bricks at the funeral home. In between the death of my father and the death of my mother, ALL of the only friends I had kept in contact with during my years of caregiving, died. As I sat in the chapel at my mother’s funeral, I looked around and realized that I was completely alone on this planet. For a very long time, I felt as though some alien ship had dropped me off on this planet, knowing no one and having no family, saying, “Now, Go. Make a life.” Where? How to begin? I was 63 years old, and for the very first time in my life, I had nobody. That deeply affected me in ways no one can imagine unless s/he has experienced it. When you’re younger, you naturally meet people and make friends at school, at work, at church, among your children’s friends, at volunteer or other social activities, and other such involvements. Those avenues were all closed to me at that age. From having lifted my parents, who are MUCH larger and heavier than my tiny 94-lb. frame, I injured my vertebrae, resulting in constant pain from advanced degenerative disc disease. I’ve also developed other health issues, which limit my activities to one degree or another. Because of my constant neck, head, shoulder, and upper arm pain, I can’t attend college or other classes or even volunteer for charities I’d like, because I simply can’t be counted on to show up. I never know when my pain will be so debilitating that I can’t get up, so anything with a schedule is not a reasonable option for me.
Although my legs are still good for the most part, I can go hiking, and I have met some people there. But, we don’t really get together to do anything outside of talking with one another on the hiking trails. My life, which was once very active, overly busy, and involved, has become very lonely. I spend every single holiday and special day alone. No one ever thinks of inviting a person with no family to join them for a holiday celebration. It is as though we are the forgotten of society. (My parents and I always invited at least one person, who was all alone, to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and other special days with us. When we barbequed, we always invited at least one such person, so that person wouldn’t have to endure another day alone. It seems that we have become such an insular society that no one does that any more. That makes it even more lonely for me, and my holidays all seem quite desolate. I volunteer every year to serve Thanksgiving dinner to the poor at a local church, but that is the only holiday experience I’ve had since my mother died 5 years ago. I do that even if I’m in bad pain, simply so I won’t have to be alone again, but I get SO MUCH joy out of my work there, that it keeps me going for months. (I do not belong to a church, because my beliefs don’t include those kinds of things any longer, but I love people, and so I thrive on serving them when and where I can. The place doesn’t matter, even if I don’t agree with the precepts underlying it.) Last year, I had to take more pain pills than usual and Celebrex, which is dangerous to me, just to make it through the day, serving others at Thanksgiving.
I reconnected with an old friend from high school through an online service, whom I hadn’t seen since 1964, trying to reach out to establish new connections. That friend was not the person she was in high school, and she betrayed me – even while I was helping her financially by paying her winter heating bill, sending her money for food, car repairs, and every other thing you can imagine, including buying her cat some extremely expensive cat food, which she said was “the ONLY kind he would eat”. I ended that “friendship” after 2 years, because it was only a one-way relationship. When I was flat on my back ill for months, she never offered to help me or even come to my home and visit with me. Although I long to be useful to others, NOBODY wants to be used, and that is what was happening. I’m not sorry that I put an end to it, because no friend at all is better than one who uses you and betrays you. So, I invested 2 years and a lot of money in a person who didn’t deserve it, and I’m right back where I was after my mother died.
All of my holidays and special days consist in me spending large parts of my day at my parents’ and grandparents’ graveside, where I place the big, beautiful wreaths I’ve made for each holiday, birthday, anniversary, etc., and I sit on their graves, talking to them as if they were still here, sometimes, even pleading for their help. They are still the very best that life had to offer me, and I miss them tremendously, especially when I’m facing difficulties or on the days when everybody seems to have a place to go but me.
Being entirely alone in this world means also feeling vulnerable to everything. So many people – just as I once did – count on, even sometimes take for granted, the emotional, social, and financial support they get from their loved ones, family and friends. When you no longer have any kind of support, you feel even more alone, vulnerable, and you begin to feel that there is no place in this world for you. Every holiday, in particular, brings those painful feelings in a loud, unrelenting roar, and they are further punctuated by seeing cheerful families gather around each other for any occasion. A person’s aloneness takes on a whole new and devastating feel to it when the holidays arrive with all the pomp and circumstance society gives it, and when your birthday comes, but there is no one remaining to even remember.
I hope I have clarified what it feels like to have no friends, no family, no one. I also hope that anyone reading my comment will take into consideration the things I’ve shared and will include in their activities someone who is alone . In the blink of an eye, my situation could become yours, and I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be left alone on holidays and other important days. A funeral, in particular, is an extraordinarily lonely place to be when the few people who attend include people like your mother’s physical therapist and her hairdresser. Life sometimes just slaps you in the face HARD, and that is one of those times. Even though I was an only child, I had always had a lot of friends until circumstances required something else from me. I never in my wildest nightmares imagined that I would be 68 years old and be completely alone. Please don’t take for granted what and whom you have in your life. I always appreciated my family and friends, but not to the greatest degree they merited. Cherish those you love, and include those who are alone. It is within your power to make another person’s life a life, rather than a mere, lonely existence.
Janice Palesch answering What does it feel like to have no friends? in Quora