Not drowning but waving


This morning I have been thinking about isolation and loneliness. Now don’t all start reaching for the hankies and you don’t have to feel guilty or start putting a deep sea rescue in place either. I was merely pondering on it and all the different ways of being lonely, while still operating within a strong social framework. You can see families that seem to work but some of the people inside them still feel alone, friends that only need you when they need you, work mates who are really only there because you happen you sit beside each other. And the love that is conditional, always dependent on what you have to offer.  

There are people who have no one at all that really “gets” them and there are those who have lost loved ones and now have no real connection with their past or their future. For many older people I think this must the hardest if you don’t have it, but the most wonderful if you do. It is so great to be with old friends who can remember back over the years with you. What a delicious pleasure it is to sit down and have a good old remember-when: “making those mini-skirts out of the curtain fabric samples instead of returning them” and “what about those rope sandals that cut off your circulation?? And remember how cool we thought we were making Chile Con Carne- foreign food ???

Mine has been a very social life, surrounded by people and going to every party I am ever invited to, a serious case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) if you ever saw one.  I have always admired the way Laura can say on Saturday night, “I think I’ll give that party a miss and stay home in my onesie”, and who, when she was little, would put her hand over the phone and whisper, “Say I can’t go to stay the night at their place”. She is not dependent on the regard of others. It seems a mystifying but preferable state to me.

And my former life was made up of multiple little and large interactions each day - small, interesting, boring, wise, hostile, precious, dismissive, funny, kind - rolling by in the hundreds every single day. Now those interactions are reduced, decimated in fact, and so many of the ones that do occur are strained and awkward.

Laura and I were watching Broadchurch the other day and there was a scene in the second programme where the bereaved mother goes to the supermarket.  A pivotal scene in the show, but Laura and I both cringed and perhaps saw it differently from most. We know that terrible supermarket stress. Not looking up because you know they are all looking at you. The strangers sympathetically touching you in the car-park and then panicked and confused rushing off, crashing the car. We have been there. We are much better at it these days (shopping I mean, not crashing the car) but we both recognised the authenticity of that scene and I am sure many others will too. That prickly feeling that you really don’t belong and everyone else can see it.

It is these things that isolate you, that separation from ordinary life and ordinary times. Most of us who are grown up have experienced this in some way or another, have had something happen to us that makes us feel set apart, for better or worse, and actually usually it is for the better not the worse.  All those conversations about work and holidays and Paris, and grandchildren, and new shoes, and anti-wrinkle cream that costs $200, and restaurants and more holidays and how Cunliffe looks like a Pekinese and drivers who don’t indicate. Yes, this is the stuff of life, ordinary company, ordinary, hum-drum, ordinary conversations on every ordinary day. And yet we all walk alone; inside your head, there is just you.

This morning when I started thinking about this, I was actually in the bathroom, blow-drying my hair (yes, I still have to do that every day despite not going to work) and looking into the big mirror that covers the wall behind the vanity. Brian was standing beside me, hands flat on the bench, in pyjamas, not speaking, not looking, just staring at the mirror. He had been standing there for five minutes; what was going on in his mind? What was going on in my mind?

 That’s the really lonely part.


22nd May