The passing of a life-long partner is, of course, devastating and changes your life irrevocably. Regardless of how near they lived to you, or how resilient your character, a feeling of loneliness is inevitable following your loss.
Sylvie Morgan, 73, is now a proud McCarthy & Stone homeowner, but experienced just this when her husband passed away from Parkinson’s Disease in 2014; “there was a realisation on my part that I was now properly alone … I had a great support network of friends. My two daughters did not live far away. I was comfortable. I had everything I needed, and yet something was missing”.
Earlier this year, here at McCarthy & Stone we commissioned some research into attitudes towards loneliness. Just like one-fifth of the over-65s we polled, Sylvie did not want to be a burden on her family, feeling as if they had enough issues of their own to deal with: “it’s really easy to feel like everyone else around you is constantly busy and you’re the only one that’s not, but most of the time you only see what they want you to see or what they post on social media”.
“I needed to kick-start a new direction for my life”
Sylvie decided to take matters into her own hands. She organised a trip to Tenby, Wales, with her local Parkinson’s group, which had supported her throughout her husband’s illness. While visiting the area a couple of months in advance to check out the hotel, she stumbled across McCarthy & Stone’s Paxton Court development.
“The idea of moving had never crossed my mind. I didn’t know a soul in Tenby but when I saw the retirement properties available there, I felt this sudden rush of excitement. Could I really leave behind everything I knew – my home – and start again on a whim? Well why not? I said to myself! … It’s not about looking for sympathy or wallowing; it’s about making the best of what you’ve been given, and doing something for you.”
Shortly afterwards, Sylvie took the brave decision to sell her three-bedroom cottage in Tetbury, Gloucestershire, and move to a two-bedroom Retirement Living apartment at Paxton Court in Tenby. Set in the heart of a picture-postcard walled seaside town, here she could make the most of communal spaces such as a cosy homeowners’ lounge and beautifully landscaped gardens, with a dedicated house manager on hand at all times to support her.
“It was like a family affair from day one!”
“It’s totally changed my life for the better”, says Sylvie. “You never feel lonely in a place like this. Whether you’re at a loose end, popping down to the laundry room or off out for the day, you will always bump into people who stop for a chat, ask you how you are, or join you for a cuppa. It’s a fantastic mix of people from all walks of life, but there’s this understanding among us all that we’re there for each other and I really like that.”
Having lived at Paxton Court for the last two years, Sylvie says she has no regrets. Like 4 in 10 of those we asked, she has made a concerted effort to volunteer, involving herself with the RNLI and the local museum. Similarly, like 1 in 10 of those surveyed, Sylvie has started dating again and has met a new partner.
Her grandchildren also come to visit regularly: “In a way, I think they see me differently than they did before. I’m active. I’ve got a busy social life, a boyfriend, lots of hobbies and commitments outside of Paxton Court. Sometimes they tell me I’ve got a busier social life than them!”
“Try something totally different”
Reflecting on her experience, Sylvie says the one piece of advice she would give to an older person who might be feeling lonely would be to try something new; “There is so much life to be lived. Go out into your community, volunteer, join local groups, start a new hobby. Whatever it is, do not be anxious or scared about meeting new people, and if it doesn’t work, try something else!”
She also couldn’t recommend Retirement Living highly enough: “It’s the security of knowing that you own your own home. You have complete privacy and independence, but with the peace of mind that you are surrounded by like-minded people who you can call on when you need to. Also you can go away without any worry of your property being ok.”
“A gesture these days means so much, but a lot of people don’t realise it”
During our research, we found that a resounding 68% agreed that a small action from others would make all the difference to how lonely they feel. Just under half said a “good morning” from a neighbour would help them to feel less lonely, whilst for 39%, a cheery wave from a neighbour would signal an improvement.
This is the exact focus of our #TakesOne2018 campaign. We are asking people to pledge to perform one everyday action to help an elderly member of their community, and to share this on our live pledge wall.
Check out #TakesOne2018 on social media for more information and details about how to get involved.