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Let’s Face It:

We are going to get old.

We are all getting older.

But what we are not facing very well is the inevitable loneliness we dread. We fear it so much that we fill in the gaps of our able-bodied lives with the activities of delight and distraction. We can get away with it while we are younger, vital, with children, or with friends. But there is a fearful abyss waiting for us when we slow down, or are slowed down by injury, age, or loss.

According to Statistics Canada, an estimated 1.4 million seniors reported they felt lonely. The Current reported on Ami Rokach, a clinical psychologist who studies loneliness who stated that “loneliness in seniors is a public health concern in Canada and goes as far to say the health effects are at epidemic levels.”

People who are 80 years and older say that up to 80 per cent of the time they feel lonely. It’s a major problem,” Rokach tells The Current‘s Anna Maria Tremonti.

As baby boomers begin to edge over the grey line where they find themselves devoid of friends and close loved ones who have died before them, the UK has come up with what is called “The Silver Line.”

How The Silver Line was born

“In August 2011, Dame Esther Rantzen DBE (who founded the children’s helpline ChildLine in 1986), wrote an article about the loneliness she has experienced since being bereaved, and living alone. She was overwhelmed by the huge response from older people who shared her experience. In November 2011 she was invited to make a key-note speech at a conference at which she came up with the idea of creating a helpline in order to support vulnerable older people, signpost them to projects and services, break through the stigma of loneliness and isolation, and tackle the problems of abuse and neglect.

The Silver Line Helpline provides three functions to support older people:

• a sign-posting service to link them into the many, varied services that exist around the country
• a befriending service to combat loneliness
• a means of empowering those who may be suffering abuse and neglect, if appropriate to transfer them to specialist services to protect them from harm.”


Since the national launch, The Silver Line Helpline has received over 920,000 calls; 53% of callers saying they had literally no-one else to speak to. It continues to receive around 10,000 calls every week from lonely and isolated older people. Over 3000 volunteer Silver Line Friends are making regular weekly friendship calls to older people.

According to McMaster Optimal Aging:

“Loneliness is often discussed in conjunction with social isolation, and the terms are often used interchangeably in everyday language. However, researchers have pointed out that the two concepts need to be differentiated. Whereas social isolation arises in situations where a person does not have enough people to interact with, an objective state, loneliness is the subjective experience of distress over not having enough social relationships or not enough contact with people…

Loneliness should also not be mistaken for depression, even though they may also be correlated. If loneliness is not about having enough people to interact with, then what causes it? One theory is that loneliness comes about because of maladaptive thoughts about oneself and others. People who are lonely are more likely than individuals who are not lonely to believe that other people will reject them. They are also more likely to have feelings of low self-worth.”

The worth of the person and friendship

One does not need to age to develop feelings of low self-worth; we struggle with the status of our worthiness in the absence of friendship, no matter what age. It takes courage, then, to explore what James Houston calls “the continent of loneliness.”  I visit this topic in posts like “Posture of a New Age?” where Henri Nouwen is quoted:

The best of community does give one a deep sense of belonging and well-being; and in that sense community takes away loneliness. But on another level community allows you to experience a deeper loneliness. It is precisely when you are loved a lot that you might realize a second loneliness which is not to be solved but lived. This second loneliness is an existential loneliness that belongs to the basis of our being. It’s where we are unfulfilled because only God can fill us.

The Second Loneliness

What Nouwen calls the “second loneliness”, Pascal calls the “God-shaped vacuum”:

What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself

 Blaise Pascal’s Pensees (New York; Penguin Books, 1966, p. 75)

Let’s Face It:

We are going to get older, and over the long arc of our short lives, the One who made of for Himself is continually inviting us into His eternal friendship – to intimate Himself into the infinite abyss that only He can fill.

And chances are there are people in your sphere, aged and aging, who could do with your friendship as the flesh & blood expression of His presence.

We were made for this…