Grow Old Gracefully and With Enthusiasm?

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2012 Nancy Virden

A  mother-in-law destroyed her home by hoarding. Terrible living conditions, and refusal of the county to condemn the place, frustrates her son’s wife.

Any suggestion about seeking help is met with refusal. Meanwhile, the older woman is living without running water, has a leak in her roof, a barely manageable pathway through the house, a mattress on the floor serving as a bed, and filth. Lots of filth. 

How does a life come to this? I do not know the emotional complexities in this type of situation. I do know her husband died, she is lonely, and somehow material possessions took his place.

In a support group I attended, someone mentioned that their elderly parent was lonely and calling excessively. I asked, “How does one keep from becoming that person, sitting in the house alone, unable to go anywhere? How is that preventable?”

“That’s why it is important to make sure you have a life, are out there developing relationships, being social, and don’t give that up,” the therapist said.

Those of us without much or any family, or none in our area, need to work harder to make sure we have a life as our age progresses. Sometimes fellowship is found in church attendance, small group meetings, book clubs, sports clubs, and the like. However, what seems to be the key against loneliness is supporting hurting people.

When my husband and I were struggling with our first baby’s health, our front lawn went unkempt for weeks. Pacing my son up and down in front of the picture window, sleep deprived and worried, I watched as a retired man across the street coddled his front yard as much as I was my baby. He would trim a spot, step back and look at it, then trim some more until every foot of his lawn was perfect. He even went into the street and trimmed the grasses that were barely peeking up over the curb. Painstakingly, his yard became a manicured showpiece.

Only he didn’t have any company. No one paid attention to his lawn. He was bored and had found a new activity. Fine. But his hobby did nothing to improve his life. I wondered as I watched how had he lived his younger years. How different would his days be if he recognized that the little family across the street needed some help with their yard?

If he had invested in our lives by extending his hobby to our property for a little while, I would have had him in for dinner and pursued friendship with him. 

My point is, elderly loneliness is an epidemic. We younger folk can become those who do not hide, who give to others and become indispensable. We can think of those who do not have the time or ability we have, and invest our in them.  Practicing this lifestyle will not only improve our immediate outlook on life and our moods, it may just ensure we have happier sunset years after all.


NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

 – pictures from


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