October Reading for Chalice Elders: Relationship

At our monthly Elders Lunch (held on zoom the second Friday each month from 12 noon to 1 p.m.), Rev. Sharon shares a reading from the book In Later Years: Finding Meaning and Spirit in Aging by Bruce T. Marshall, a Unitarian Universalist minister. The following are excerpts shared at our October Elders Lunch. The theme of this chapter is “Relationship.”

Many people are lonely in their final years. As Lowell S put it, “When you get older, you look around, and people are dying off or moving away.” The social contacts that have sustained us decrease. Not only do old friends and family members die, there are fewer opportunities to make new friends. It’s also harder to participate in everyday conversation with acquaintances and strangers. We become less mobile and are not able to get to places where we can be around other people. Our health declines, and we might not have the energy it takes to maintain relationships. (pp. 128-129)

…when our lives become less busy during the retirement years, we recognize a need for human contact that might always have been with us but that we haven’t taken the time to acknowledge. When we are younger, our lives are filled with tasks and responsibilities: raising children, doing our jobs, taking care of houses and cars and the chores that accompany everyday life. We might not have time to acknowledge an unfulfilled yearning for closer human contact.

Barbara L said, “You don’t have the work and just the busyness of life to mask loneliness. The loneliness that I think is part of the human condition comes glaring out when you’re older because so much of our other stuff is stripped away.” (p. 129)

People spoke about how difficult it was to make new friends and keep them as they grew older. Jack W emphasized the importance of making new friends but noted that it had it has become progressively harder for him to find people with the shared interests necessary to sustain a friendship. Among his contemporaries he finds a narrowing of interests–and then the opportunities for contact and meaningful conversation also decrease. He said, “I guess I had thought that physically it would decline but intellectually it would remain active, but I don’t believe that’s always true.” With the narrowing that may accompany aging, there just isn’t enough to talk about to keep people engaged. (p. 130)

Friendships developed during the later stages of life are often different from those that come earlier. “They’re not as deep,” one person said. Another noted that “it can take years” to establish a meaningful friendship. Relationships established among the elderly don’t have as much time to develop. A woman spoke of new friends she has made through living in a retirement community, but she noted that her relationships with them lack the depth of those developed earlier. “I count them as my friends,” she observed, “but that doesn’t mean I know a lot about them.”

It is not clear to me whether relationships begun later in life remain superficial because of a lack of time and opportunity to develop them or because the participants prefer them that way. Seniors often can be hesitant to commit to new relationships. When you have lost friends through illness or death, you may become reluctant to start again with someone new. (pp.131-132)