Time and again, friends and clients, especially those who are more or less of my age, refer back to a previous entry on this site. It was the entry in which I wrote about retirement. Due to the ongoing debate and the emotions involved, I would like to come back to this subject. However, I place the focus slightly differently.
The conversations I have had since more or less all revolved around the theme of loneliness. Even those amongst my friends who are in a partnership feel lonely when the professional contact, although long awaited, has ended. I understand this feeling very well. I still keep my professional life active, but made contact with the feeling of loneliness after my children had left the country.
Loneliness can be triggered by different situations. After retirement, there are no colleagues who are just there, even if we have little to do with them on a day-to-day basis. Translators in the Commission, for example, sit in their small cells and translate their texts in solitude. But even though they sit alone, there is a sense of connectedness. They knew that other people are sitting in their small cells next to them.
What is loneliness? It is a feeling of disconnection, a feeling of being estranged from familiar people, a feeling of “no purpose”, feeling cut off, insignificance, not belonging, being an outsider, swimming alone in the ocean without seeing the shore.
Suffering from loneliness is more severe when men and women are retired and have no partner. The contact with friends becomes more sporadic and happens (almost) always by appointment. Often the children have moved to other countries or returned to the home country. We know life is ending because our grandparents and parents die, and we eventually have to face the same. It is coming closer.
Many of us living in Brussels are not Belgian. But we also no longer belong to the country and culture where we came from. We feel a stranger here and there. We do not really belong to Belgium, and neither France, the UK, Germany, Poland, nor Sweden … anymore. After retirement we often do not belong to any social system. We cannot identify any more. We feel isolated. I am convinced – like many others – that human contact is the alpha and omega of wellbeing and happiness. We are social creatures and need acknowledgment, the feeling of togetherness and definitely do we need physical contact
It is known that infants die without sensory contact. But not only infants die from that lack, very lonely people can as well. However, men and women after retirement and without a strong social network are more likely to suffer from “depression”. Depression is then in my opinion directly linked to a lack of human care, to the lack of human exchange and the lack of being hugged once in a while. As human beings we also need a sense of meaning and purpose. We can find it in our family or in a professional environment. If both environments do not exist anymore, wellbeing becomes difficult, but not hopeless. Other than powerless infants, we as adults have the power to do something about the situation. I have the privilege that my profession is also my vocation and I can work as long as my heart and my head do not say, “stop”. However, not everybody has this privilege.
What is the solution to loneliness?
My generation (I was born in 1949) and the years before and after, we are the first generation, which is still young and vital, despite the number of years we have lived and in spite of retirement. We have a lot of life experience and feel that we want to share and do something with it. There are quite a few models that deal with the change of age. There is the model of U3A (University of the Third Age), or we can become guest students at universities, we can go to foreign countries again to be a grandmother-nanny and much more.
My contribution to the situation is an invitation to regular meetings; meetings where we can exchange ideas and support each other; meetings in which we can disclose our concerns and needs, and where we can address our loneliness without shame. I am inviting men and women in Brussels and online, to discuss under my guidance what the next step of life can be. We can look together at where we want to live and what we still want to get out of life. I will provide a safe and supportive environment.
Please let me know if you would like to join the group. You can contact me under 04220.127.116.11 or at firstname.lastname@example.org