Cause of Death: Loneliness
My friend Melanie shares her home with her mother, her sister, sometimes her brother and a lovely cat that has to be 20 years old if she's a day. Up the street a few houses lives her aunt and uncle. Her mother, aunt and uncle are all pushing 90, and despite numerous illnesses, falls, accidents and the like, they are all plugging along. Currently, Melanie's adorable aunt who makes the most delicious custard on the planet, had a terrible virus that left her very weak, and she has been in a rehabilitation facility since Christmas time. Every day, all day, Melanie is there doing everything she can to get her aunt well enough to come back home. And you know what? She will.
She will because there is so much devotion, love and support in that family of feisty Armenians that nothing can dampen their spirit or their resolve. I really believe this is one of the biggest keys to living a long life and recovering from illness.
Loneliness affects people's health. Don't doubt it for a minute. Up until this generation, older people were always kept at home where there was a sense of belonging. Where they were surrounded by their favorite things, ate the healthiest of foods, and were supported daily with love and devotion. And now? How many families have had to break up the family home of an aging parent and move them to a nursing home? How many people have weathered a serious illness like cancer alone? How many older people have simply given up the will to live and laid down and died?
When I go into my bank, there is a teller who just makes me smile uncontrollably because she is so warm, friendly and positive. Her name is Shruthi and she is Indian (in case you couldn't guess!). We were talking about the idea of nursing homes and she found it astounding that people actually request and pay for long-term care insurance. They assume that they will be chucked out of their home, denied a bed in the home of a family member and will live out their days at the hands of strangers with nothing more familiar than a pair of socks. Why have we gotten the idea into our heads that caring for those we love in the face of illness or disability is not our responsibility? Why do we think that it's not just not what we want, but completely out of the question? Why do we choose to live hundreds of miles from our loved ones, or structure our life so we cannot even entertain the idea of caretaking.
I honestly believe that without the support of someone who loves you, healing from illness is a much tougher road to hoe. In fact, loneliness should be listed as a cause of death, because it is. The stress, fear and anxiety from loneliness can do more damage than smoking a pack a day.
Think about it.... Isn't it possible that the most important thing you can do for your future health isn't drinking more water, getting more exercise or even eating green vegetables. It's building strong family and friend relationships and establishing a commitment to be there for each other, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, as long as you all shall live.