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Planning Retirement Online



Relationships - April 2014

Talking it through


Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

Alone or Lonely

You might recall last month's email from a Laterlife reader worrying about care homes and being alone.

“So what do we do when we are left alone - I am terrified of being alone and it has become a painful ceaseless thought. Do other people in their 70s have these fears? And how do we conquer them?”

How frightening it can be, facing being alone, learning how to manage life without a partner to share the worries and joys of life.

Sooner or later half of the people in a relationship will be faced with coming to terms with the loss of their partner and trying to adjust to life on their own. A lot of older people are now going through this painful process, or fear it happening soon. And for many of them this will be the first time they have lived alone after 'marrying from home', as was the norm for people during and just post WW2.

There are some tough things to deal with as we age and losing a life's partner is one of them. Add to that perhaps having nursed them through a long illness, possibly feeling rather worn out by that or not enjoying good health oneself, then the task of adjusting to life alone as well as dealing with all the official settling of affairs inevitable when a partner dies, and the whole unhappy time can feel insurmountable.

It is no wonder our friend from last month feels terrified of the future. But being alone and being lonely are not the same things. Being alone can, for many, be eased as time passes by getting to know how to cope with things which might have been dealt with by a partner. When they become too ill or when they die, the remaining person has to take over, finding where relevant papers are kept, knowing how to read a meter, mend a fuse or cook a meal.

Feeling lonely is altogether harder to bear at times. Losing your loved partner after many years together is one of the toughest stages of life, whether through death or illness. When it occurs at a late stage in life the difficulties in making necessary adjustments tax emotional wellbeing.

A resilient 85yr old lady I know, recently widowed, told me a few weeks ago that she is glad she has many younger friends, as she has few of her contemporaries around her now and some are not fit enough to visit her. The death of her husband..."or of anyone my age", she explained, was not unexpected and her sadness is a gentle acceptance of the inevitable, “ It was a race to the finish” she says, in her matter-of-fact way, “and he won”. Her younger friends have introduced her to groups who share her interests and are willing to drive her and help out in her garden. This is not an unusual situation, plenty of older people find being with those a decade or two younger is energising to just the right degree. Grandchildren too can make bonds with their grandparents which are oblivious of the generational gap and grandparents will often find a freedom in that relationship which is not apparent with their children.

But the hardest part of being both alone and lonely is the time when the door is shut and the evening sets in. A very dear friend who lost her husband last year and finds evenings and early mornings the loneliest part of the day. It feels as though part of her self is missing and the emptiness of that feeling is that she knows he is gone, she can no longer talk to his person, just his memory, and that she has to go on alone. But slowly life is affecting changes and she is beginning to live anew. Again, family, neighbours and friends have remained close and given her time to mourn as well as offering support and encouragement. And her two kittens, who her husband insisted they have, provide a reason to start each day, welcome her home and help her though each evening.

As playwright Samuel Beckett wrote, “ in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on”. He saw that we have little choice. We feel one thing and do the opposite. Our inner strength carries us forward.

Family, friends and pets are key to most peoples ways of relieving loneliness. There are some older people who have no-one close to them to offer this support and encouragement though. Yet such are the wonders of modern communications that you will be reading this on a computer or tablet of some sort. There are still 5.3 million people over 65 who have never been online, so you have faster access to these facilities, but their details, and the existence of local ones, can be discovered in libraries and GP surgeries. They offer phone and postal contact too. (See below)

Life in older age can be hard due to loss of partners, independence and strength. Our world becomes smaller. But we are by nature social creatures and thrive, at whatever age, in company. Perhaps the key to 'going on' is to find our own way of keeping in contact with others for as long as we are able, and it is never too late to start finding new friends and acquaintances when we have few, build on existing ones and strengthen our family ties if we have them. Never be afraid to talk about your worries, ask or seek for help with practical things. There are many places to find help, wherever you are.

Take pleasure in the small things that happen, let them remind you of small – or greater - pleasures past, and stay curious about the world around you. The small things are what fill our days and are the stuff of life.

There is a really good booklet called LifeBook from AgeUK. It is free and you can order your copy online or by phone and fill in all the things either a partner, relative or friend needs to know. It has places to write what insurances exist, where the will is, what passwords are needed for the computer, where the spare keys are, when the car needs servicing and much more. All this can be so hard to plough through when feeling bereft, but could be made so much simpler by taking time to fill in your LifeBook, a bit at a time, over a cup of tea.


AgeUK have message boards and support groups as well as many practical advice pages for virtually anything you are likely to need and can put you in contact with local groups.
Advice line: 0800 169 6565
We also have much to offer, take a wander in our pages while you are here.

Independent Age is an older people's charity, you can get advice and support by email and phone, or join their telephone club and have conversations with other people who would otherwise feel lonely and isolated.
Advice line 0800 319 6789

You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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