Loneliness of the Senior Citizen



I need not pontificate on the pluses and minuses of getting old and being in the senior-most section of the profile of Sri Lanka’s population, age-wise. The oldies know it all; the middle aged are becoming aware; the young just don’t care, and good for them. One salutary saying to keep in mind came from the Buddha who proclaimed anicca vatta sankhara meaning ‘all conditioned things are impermanent’. The Buddha also proclaimed that the one sure certainty in life is death, preceded by ageing and often, illness. This is not negativity or pessimism; it is stark reality that all living beings are subject to. The sooner we realize the truth of this, the better adjusted do we become.

The new categorization of the different age groups of population goes thus:

“The Silent Generation also known as the Traditional Generation is the Western demographic cohort following the Greatest Generation and preceding the Baby Boomers.” The Silent Generation which is the group I have in mind when writing this piece is defined as people born from 1928 to 1945. Thus the age range is 78 to 95, give or take a couple of years in each limit. Next is the Baby Boomer Generation – born 1946-1964; Generation X – born 1965-1979; Millennials – born 1980-1994; and Generation Z – born 1995-2012.

People generally live longer now due to better health care and also thanks to their own efforts to keep going with quality of life assured, barring the disadvantages and limits advancing years bring on. Myriad bits of advice float around, transmitted by social media.

I mean to construct my article this Sunday around quotations garnered, and opining on them.


Seniors whose friends have passed away or whose lives are severed from their families understand loneliness.

Yes, that quote defines a major hazard of getting old. It’s now a constant hearing of this friend falling ill; that cousin diagnosed with a severe ailment; symptoms of Alzheimer’s being shown by a classmate; a schoolmate suffering depression. And the worst is the announcement of the death of relative or friend.

Another fairly recent hazard is having one’s children traveling overseas for higher education and then deciding to procure employment in the foreign land and settling down. Or finding taxes too severe as the latest reason is, and migrating to (hopefully) greener pastures. One cannot blame them. We parents are much more understanding and accommodating than our mothers were, I make bold to aver. My mother even pronounced (and believed) the fact that children were had and brought up to look after parents when they were old! My brother and I guffawed when Mother said this and in chorus protested: “But we did not ask to be born!” Mother was totally affronted; she felt our language was sacrilegious and expressed ingratitude and lack of filial responsibility.

How do present parents and those of a generation past react/reacted to a son or daughter deciding to settle down overseas? We were complacent and sincerely glad they would lead the life they wanted to lead, and it would be better. From the 1980s onwards Sri Lanka was on a downward path and hence the constant migration of Sri Lankan youth overseas. There was almost an exodus of youth with the JVP causing chaos in the country and universities being closed in the second half of the 1980s. Some parents followed their children, but most opted to stay back in this country of birth and growing up; comforted by extended family and friends and spiritually inspired in an enveloping aura of religiousness, felt whatever one’s religion was.

However, loneliness resulted; compensated for by unselfishness and the joy of one’s children doing well. Foreign money sent is admittedly a material compensation; muditha (altruistic joy in other’s wellbeing) an emotional comfort.


“Loneliness could be even considered a hallmark of ageing – if we let it grab us.”

The quote above is of paramount importance to us oldies now categorized as the Silent / Traditional Generation. Loneliness is inevitable, particularly as dusk descends with nightfall imminent, and when alone at home. Some resort to telephone conversations, many to the TV and a few to a practice which is of permanent value unlike the diversions mentioned above and others ephemeral. I mean here meditation, and I do not identify Buddhists since anyone can meditate – meditation is not the preserve of the Buddhist nor is it a practice given us by the Buddha. Gautama Siddhartha practiced bhavana which was prevalent in Hindu India from ages previous. The Buddha’s innovation was vipassana meditation. When one is lonely, the remedy is samatha meditation which calms and ultimately brings joy.

As the quote specifies, loneliness will enmesh us – the older – if we do not resist it and keep it at bay. If we are strong in determination and willful, we can avoid loneliness. And most mercifully there are religious leaders – bhikkhus, bhikkhunis and church and kovil padres and leaders to help us. Then we have friends and relatives including those of younger generations. And more recently many organizations that target helping the elderly with weekly club days, organized indoor games, social gatherings et al.

The quotation relevant here is another saying of the Buddha: “Apply yourself to solitude. One who does so will see things as they are.” Yes, accepting reality is the key to keeping loneliness at bay. It is so easy to let it overcome us. One or two friends just gave up after their spouses died. What followed was hopelessness and a longing for death. This attitude is condemned in Buddhism as being as negative and damaging as a desire for life and sensual pleasures.

Remedies to loneliness

The quote I select here is “We know that without food we would die. Without fellowship life is not worth living.” As stark as that. And true too. Friends, meeting up, sharing a meal together, even a gossip session are self-motivated and made antidotes to being miserable all alone. Telephoning or free of cost WhatsApp-ing are good but better it is to actually meet. One group of friends and I meet over lunch on a bring and share basis – reduces cost to the hostess in these times of soaring COLs.

Many organizations target the elderly in their programmes. Old Girls Associations of schools do this; also groups of volunteers who organize weekly half or full day gatherings of over 60s or 70s and have them met, greet and play games, the most popular being Scrabble. A friend who is in her mid-90s is one such organizer/facilitator.

Armchair yoga has entered the scene bringing immense benefit to the elderly. Some are sex-mixed so marrieds can exercise together. Not only is deep breathing insisted upon and muscles and tendons strengthened, but the mind too is engaged. Equally effective and uplifting is the camaraderie shared with like-aged persons. Companionship, sometimes interspersed with bone creaks and gasps, most assuredly banishes loneliness.

A major plus point for the older person in Sri Lanka, whether rural or urban, rich or poor, is the love support of the extended family.