A different kind of lonely 55



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We women need to prepare for a life in our older years that may be lonelier than we expect. Not because we don’t have a life partner but because that life partner may not be able to share the future we planned together.

Most of us are living longer than any of our forebears who might have reached beyond the biblical three score and ten. So we may reasonably expect our partner, and I’m talking male here, to live on into old age with us.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released some information about this in November last year, saying life expectancy and death numbers hit historic highs in 2014. Aussie males and females born today have the highest estimated life expectancy ever recorded in Australia.

“There are only six other countries worldwide where both men and women have a life expectancy over 80 years,” says Beidar Cho from the ABS. “These countries are Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Iceland, Israel and Sweden.”

In fact in Australia, in 2014 male life expectancy at birth rose to 80.3 years and female life expectancy also increased, to 84.4 years.

It’s a commonplace that women outlive men, but it seems to me that we women are also healthier than our elderly counterparts. Dry statistics don’t reveal quality of life, and it’s a sad fact of life that the health of many men does not enhance their life as it should.

In my immediate circle are women whose husbands are incapacitated by a stroke, by Alzheimers, by cancer of different kinds. It’s devastating for the men themselves whose quality of life is severely limited and if they are lucky they have a wife or partner who is able to take care of them. For these women, quality of life is similarly restricted.

Many families spend decades looking after a child whose disabilities take constant care; one can only have admiration for the love and dedication of those parents. For the wife whose husband is, gradually or suddenly, someone to be cared for and to be monitored every hour of every day, it is similar to a death in the family. It is the same of course for the husband whose wife is abruptly a patient in the home but it’s usually the women who are the carers because the men pay the price for not looking after their health as they should.

A form of grieving takes place I believe, as it can be overwhelming to realise the trip around Australia won’t happen, the overseas trips long planned can be forgotten, the outings and the entertainment that retirement allows—all replaced by a daily round of housebound activities with a partner who may gradually forget who you are, and who can lose all sense of self.

The ‘fortunate’ wife is one whose husband is merely physically ill; if mental faculties are intact then for the couple there can be an ongoing relationship. Where dementia or Alzheimers is present, the healthy spouse can become very isolated. With the best will in the world, other family and friends can’t really help when the wife’s absence causes distress to the failing husband.

So, as I said at the start, we women need to prepare for a life in our older years that may be lonelier than we expect.

How have you coped with an ailing husband – or wife? Any suggestions for those new to this kind of challenge?

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Fran Goodey

Frances Goodey is the mother of four daughters and the grandmother of two primary school age boys. With six brothers and two sisters, she was raised in Sydney and later lived and worked in Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Brisbane. She is an avid reader and has had some small success with children's stories being published in New Zealand and Australia. Both she and her husband are retired, and her daughters live in Brisbane, Toowoomba, Sydney and Frankfurt.

  1. Yes, one does grieve in a different way when your partner ,child or parent has a mental because you have lost that person as you knew them. I grieve for my son every day and wish I could have my “real ” son back, the one to whom I gave birth. It is like he has died and someone else has taken over his body. It’s awful some days and it hurts to see the son that once was, is no more. Grief? Definitely!

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  2. I have a couple of girlfriends who are caring for their husbands with Alzheimers. The one has set up a good support system with some community help and family backing which means she can get away regularly,but the other is on duty full time and it’s relentless. I’m seeing her go down hill,because she is fiercely loyal and independent,which is so admirable,but she refuses to even let him go for respite, so that she can have a break and it’s taking its toll. I think we also need to take care of ourselves in the picture.

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    • So right because she will surly hit rock bottom. There’s a better way and your first friend as the right idea. It’s team work.

  3. I had to put my husband into Aged care as he has dementia and Parkinson’s, I battled to keep him home but it got too much and I had to eventually listen to his doctors who had been telling me for ages he had to be in a home. I felt very very lost and extremely guilty for quite a few months, but now realise I gave done the right thing for him and me, I do visit him very regularly, he has his good and bad days, yesterday was a bad day, but I know there is absolutely nothing I can do fir him and he us getting good professional assistance.

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    • know exactly how you feel. I too see my husband regularly and it is very hard to leave knowing that they miss you and want to be at home.

    • Sounds like what happened to my husband, at 57 I had to make the same decision, my heart broke as I left him in the care of wonderful group of people, the worst thing I have ever had to do, I will never forget that day, he was safe and well care for, he passed away after six months.

    • The doctors said to me by having my Stepfather home I was doing him more harm than good so he went into care, but died within two weeks, I did feel guilt but had looked after him for 6 years and he was very happy living with us. So yes it’s hard but best all round.

  4. When my husband went into a nursing home due to his mobility issues and i was told there was no way he could be looked after at home it was very hard. We hadnt done any of the things we wanted to do, he was only 73. We had spent the last few years looking after grandchildren a d it was supposed to be our time. You do feel a kind of grief for the life you have lost but they are still there.

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    • Yes Yvonne, understand that one too. I lost my husband when I was 38. He was only 47. He had a heart problem. Absolutely great person. Everyone loved him. He was a wonderful husband and a fantastic Dad. We lost so much when he passed away and our children really suffered when he went. My daughter ended up with depression and my son with paranoid schizophrenia. I was okay eventually. And yes, I ended up looking after my grandchildren too. I really feel for people like us because, as you say, it should have been “our” time to enjoy life with our hubbies. There are all sorts of grief aren’t there. People who haven’t been through all these different griefs just do not understand do they. And neither does the Government and Government Agencies if one has to deal with them! Everything is so stressful to deal with at those times isn’t it. I really feel for all of us who lose, or have lost, in all these different ways. I only wish a lot more people could really understand, or understood, what people really go through and have gone through. Its so heartbreaking and hurtful some days isn’t it. Love to you all.xo.

    • Oh Yvonne your story seems to resonate with mine, I have felt so isolated from my peers because of the activities I was into with young children, now the last one is almost launched, I look around and see, broke, husband disconnected, peer group and family, including some of my own kids, dead, and this is supposed to be my time HA!

  5. I have been caring for my husband for the past 5 years. The last 4 he has been on oxygen 24/7 and now has short term memory loss add in osteoporosis and life for him and myself means we have no quality time. It is hard. I believe he should be in full time care, but he is fighting it so hard. I do not look forward to when that does happen, and know I will miss him badly. He will be 78 this year and I am in my early 70s.

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  6. The grieving starts long before they have gone.

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    • I was grieving when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and eventually dementia for more than 10years it has never stopped

    • Kay Whyte I know what you mean my husband had cancer for nine years,some good some really awful but I would do it all over a gain.

    • Me to I often see what I think is him and I have to stop in my tracks and think of my husband x

    • Yes you are so right Colleen my sister has Alzheimers and is still breathing but she’s long gone, but not my lingering grief is still deep.

  7. Yes vivienne I had to do that also he had vascular dementia and PSP (progressive. Supra nucelear palsy ) not good at all .l lost him nearly 3years now . You can just be there now and take each day as it comes . I found that finding something you like to do for yourself helped like a hobby with people .

  8. I’ve been caring for my husband who has Huntingtons Disease since 2004. He is 65. I lost him many years ago. No he hasn’t died, I just lost the man he once was. This a slow debilitating condition. Mental health issues, memory, chorea and the ability for empathy. He is still able to do most things just needs supervision but I can slowly see him deteriorating. It’s a full time job being a Carer.

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  9. All I can say is thank god I live alone. I saw what my poor mother went through looking after my father. She was 88 and caring for some ,one of93 just horrible.

  10. I have watched my father for sometime now live by himself without his life partner by his side and it must be very emotionally draining as his mobility deteriorates. He still is in his own home and has no desire to move into a facility where there would be aged company, but he constantly tells me how he misses mum, like we all do.

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  11. My husband passed away a year ago. I nursed him for ten years. He was 24/7 care due to a devastating stroke . There is no clear cut answer to taking care of your loved one. I went with my heart not my head. I denied to myself that my husband was not fully cognitive it made it easier for me mentally and I have never regretted my choice but it came with a physical cost. At this time of writing,I am totally at lost with the solitude and finding it hard to get into a mainstream life ..

  12. My husband was diagnosed with alzheimers in 2012 but unfortunately has no insight that he has a problem. Therefore he absolutely refuses to go anywhere to give me a little respite. I feel extremely lonely and sad most of the time but you have to battle on and I still have my memories of my gorgeous “Silver Fox” over 52 years.

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    • Sad to read
      Aee if you can get an Aged care assessment team to come and check him out
      They are the ones who decide on which way to go! Sounds like a nursing coming up though
      Sad but true! You have to be realistic about the situation and you have a life to don’t forget!!!
      Coping with the care is a 24hr 3 shift job! Often the carers come to grief before the patient amd he has no idea!
      Accept reality even though its not what you want to hear. Best wishes with this. Ive been there done that too

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