Writer and broadcaster

I’m living in a senior community and rarely see my family. The Guardian

Dear Annalisa

I am a woman of 75. My son just moved me to a senior community. I had lived with him and my grandson for four years. I have been my 15-year-old’s grandmother figure for most of his life. My son got married and lives four miles from me but I only get to see him 15 minutes a week. I want my son and grandson to have a regular family life, I just didn’t realise it would feel like they died. I cry every day. I’m afraid to drive in my new town. I drive once a month. I haven’t found a new doctor because I don’t want to get weighed. (I weigh over 200lb.) I am scared of most things for the first time in my life; I have been divorced since 1988 so I’ve taken care of myself.

I feel so confused and alone. I miss my grandson so much, but he is so busy and I don’t expect him to hang out with Grandma. The pain is unbearable. My son and daughter always said I am a great mother but my daughter won’t even speak to me. I have written to ask why but she won’t even reply. It’s been five years. I feel like I’m coming apart, bit by bit. Can you help? Should I see a therapist?

I wasn’t sure if you lived in the UK or abroad as certain elements of your letter sounded as if you live abroad, perhaps the US. But I hope that the advice I give will still help you. I wondered what access to services you have in your community? Is there a counsellor-type person or warden or someone who could tell you about facilities within the community?

I think it’s key for you to sign on with a doctor. I’m sure you are not the only person they will have seen who weighs over 200lb. But this way you can start accessing some medical care, make contact with someone and I’d like you to be assessed for possible depression. (This is a good read from Age UK: tinyurl.com/kcxfl9y).

Yes, talking to someone – a therapist or counsellor – would be a great idea for you if you find someone you feel you can talk to. I noted in another email you sent me that you said you had not mentioned how you feel to “another living soul” almost as if you felt great shame and I think keeping these feelings inside you is making them grow into something huge and that feels unmanageable.

But there’s nothing to be ashamed of; how you feel is sadly not uncommon or unusual. I bet if you talked to others in your community they have felt like you do, and maybe still do.

Is there a befriending scheme in your community? Although it sounds as if you feel needy and frightened at the moment, remember that you also have a lot to offer other people, too. I’ve attached a PDF on loneliness that you should be able to click on to online (if you’re not already online when you read this) from Age UK (ageuk.org.uk, tel: 0800 169 6565) which also has some very helpful resources to read online.

Your new landscape must be really scary. No matter how young or old we are, finding ourselves away from what we know – from what makes us “us” – is hugely destabilising and confidence-draining.

But try to remember that you won’t always feel like this. Confidence comes from doing the same thing over and over again, so if you can tackle things that you want to do, which would give you more freedom (say, driving) and do small amounts every day, that would go a long way towards improving your confidence and allowing you to tap back into the wider community, and family, that you knew.

Do you get out much, even locally? Do you see other people in your community? I think getting your independence back, seeing people and getting out regularly is key to your wellbeing and helping you to right yourself. Chip away at it every day. Set yourself really small, doable tasks. This way, when you do see your grandson, you also won’t feel as if you’re clinging to a life raft.

I’ve attached a PDF on loneliness which you should be able to click on to online (if you’re not already online when you read this) from AGE UK (ageuk.org.uk, tel: 0800 169 6565) which also has some really helpful resources to read online.

On to your family: I’m a bit concerned that you seem to have been “moved”. Did you agree to it? Have you told them how you feel? It doesn’t sound as if you have. People can’t help if you don’t tell them what is going on. How do you best communicate with your grandson? Email, phone, text? Perhaps you could build up to arranging to meet him a bit more often than 15 minutes a week, perhaps doing something other than him coming to you. The contact you have now will be different to that daily contact when you lived together. Can you not visit back where you lived?

As for your daughter, it sounds like you have done everything you can. Keep writing occasionally, tell her you have moved and it would be great to see her. Perhaps now that you are away from your son’s house, things will be easier between you.



This article first appeared in the Guardian Family section on 1 May 2015.