How elderly women, men beat age-old loneliness

Elderly people mark International Day of Older Persons in Nyeri on October 1, 2022.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi I Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Those who had children are left to hold onto the memories of their children who’ve become adults and independent.
  • Those with no children have a lonelier life, though they have different ways of coping with age-old loneliness.

Old age marks significant developments in the life of women and men.

For those who had children, they are left to hold onto the memories of their children who’ve become adults and independent.

Those who had no children have a lonelier life. Older women and men, though, have different ways of coping with age-old loneliness.

I speak to some and these are their stories.

Baraka*

She is 75-year-old and lives in Kibra, Nairobi. Her husband left her five decades ago after their desire for a blessing of a child became elusive.

“I have been on my own for years, and it doesn’t bother me at this age that I’m alone. I enjoy my life as it is,” she says.

“I have only one sister who lives in Siaya, and we rarely talk. Even when I opened a bank account, I put my neighbour as the next of kin. I don’t allow myself to feel lonely.

"If I’m not in the house, I’m either in church or visiting my fellow older women. If you don’t find me in either of these places, I’ll definitely be taking a walk or attending our weekly group meeting.”

She is in a group of 20 elderly women who meet every Friday at a local daycare centre for the elderly.

“Sometimes we cook together, sing and dance. It’s so lovely and I’m always looking forward to the day. By the time I get home, I’m too tired. I sleep well.”

In her youthful years, Baraka ran a fast-food joint in Kibra and saved much of her profits, money that she says is currently paying her bills.

Rosemary Wanja, 72

She is an ex-driver at the department of public health in the defunct Nairobi City Council.

She says “loneliness” has never been part of her elderly life and she cannot allow it to be.

“You can only be lonely if you allow yourself to be,” reckons Rosemary who lives in Nairobi.

“I am always engaged. Never will you find me sitting idle. At home, I spend my time weaving table mats and baskets for selling. If I’m not at home, I’ll be cooking pilau at weddings, parties, church or women group meetings.”

She also listens to Radio Waumini and immerses herself in Bible teachings and readings to keep her mind busy.

When she is tired, she takes a walk or visits her fellow women for a good laugh. They entertain themselves with comic stories.

Elijah (Preferred the name to protect his privacy)

Elijah, a 69-year-old retired civil servant, lives on a middle-class estate in Nairobi. He has four children, all educated, with two having completed their master’s degrees.

Each of them is employed, with the eldest having secured a job in the United States. He says he doesn’t have any health complications. But his wife, aged 67, has multiple health conditions, and he spends most of his time taking care of her.

“She is asthmatic, has high blood pressure and osteoarthritis. I’m always with her unless I must travel and if I do, I hurry up and return within two hours,” he says.

“I must make sure she has taken her medicine, eaten, taken a bath and is generally clean. Doing all that and having her always in my mind is work. And that obviously keeps me busy,” he affectionately says.

He says some days they visit their children together, stay in company when watching a movie or reading something exciting. Their children also keep them busy with stories of their achievements and growth.

“It’s an exciting life getting old with someone you’re in sync with. You’ll never be lonely. That’s my message to the young people: ‘marry for love not money so that when you grow old, you’ll enjoy age-old love’,” he advises.