The Age of Overwhelming Loneliness

Natalya Mihailova | 15 March 2018
So what is old age like – is it the time for simple joy or reflections? Or is it the sudden vacuum with you being the only one in the world and trying to figure out what to do with your life? Basically no one needs you, but in the pursuit of the new meaning you have the time for God, a dog and Schubert.

Old Age is…

Human life has become longer. The pubescent period has become longer (some scientists even suggest extending it up to 24 years), the time that falls on the period of aging and old age is longer. Old age is supposed to be met actively now: in good physical shape with a great position in business surrounded by a large loving family. Getting the second, the third, the tenth degree, indulging in a favorite hobby, travelling a lot. Whereas in fact, aging is met in the state of confusion and loneliness.

In reality, it seems to be a new pubescent period. And the man is as unprepared and vulnerable as in his teens.

Anyway, I am talking about what is dear to my heart: I understand a lot about longing for an unborn last child and non-existent grandchildren, who are unlikely to be born soon, if ever; and little about the famous red ‘Porsche’, which is an anecdotic attribute of an aging man.

when You Do Not Recognize Yourself in the Mirror

The body changes first of all. It is no longer the same skillful and familiar tool that one is used to. It is old and weak. Ten different parts are in pain simultaneously and that is normal. Now it reacts like Balaam’s donkey to enduring sleepless nights and deadlines: it stops, ceases to function and clearly tells you that it cannot take it anymore. And indeed, we understand that there are a lot of things in the world over which you do not need to lose your sleep if only it is not for your loved ones. Deadlines are definitely not worth it.

One of the Holy Fathers once said that the body is a donkey. And it is an old donkey. Once credible, but old and stubborn now. An old car with expired warranty will work for some time with due care, but you will not be able to race it. But inside this old body still lives a very young soul that tragically cannot recognize itself in the mirror anymore.

This is just the age when friends begin to lose weight – not randomly, to fit in the new swimsuit before summer: “oh, I am loaded with cakes again, alright, next time then” – but persistently and seriously: just because they understand that the old donkey cannot handle the extra load. And one is tempted to be trim and beautiful at old age.

This is just the age when it is still difficult to get used to loose face, appearance of wrinkles, hair going gray more and more. There is still faith in rehydration creams and hyaluronic acid, but it is already necessary to come up with a strategy: whether I am going to age naturally or keep myself young artificially. Will I go grey beautifully or dye my hair? Will I dye it my natural color or have it done into locks of petrol blue color since I have not done it in my youth? Because I do not care now what people think about it. We do not need to please others – just ourselves. In fact, all of this is done only for ourselves.

when You Get Used to Loss

Because it is the age of overwhelming loneliness.

And that is the most important thing in aging – that, and not the dilapidation of a physical shell. I (somehow it is tremendously difficult to write ‘I’ without slipping to generalized ‘you’ or ‘we’ – though, perhaps, this is not only I, but you, we and everyone who is going through the second aging) – I have already fulfilled my physiological purpose: raised children, who have become adults and moved into adulthood. They still need a mom – but like every adult needs a mom: for warmth, for recharging the batteries. To touch once in a while, to brighten up, to carry on. A mom can no longer be under a delusion that she lives for them. It is necessary to ponder the meaning of their own life.

My mom still needs me, and I need my mom. Dad has passed away. And women my age realize: I am the oldest now. I am in the foreground now, there is no one else before me. There are no adults who can be asked something.

We learn to lose. We study the science of parting deeper and deeper. We learn to live in the constant presence of illnesses and death clearly understanding that we are mortals too and that there is less ahead than behind.

And increasingly we ask ourselves a question: what was all of that for? What is all of that for now? What am I doing here, in this world, why did I come here? To give birth to these children? To love this man? To do this job? How will I justify what I will leave behind? What was the point of this whole life?

Photo by Flickr / Florian Schwalsberger

And yet it turns out that your beloved and your one and only, the one with whom you intended to live happily ever after and die together – he goes away too. For someone he goes to a better world, for others – into a new life. He is going through the same too – through aging, betrayal of the body, loneliness and disappointment. He is also trying to learn how to live again. He finds a new job, a new country, a new wife, builds a new house, buys a new car. Sometimes he becomes a father to his new children.

and When You Need to Learn How to Live Alone – before God

This is a new life – “when in your life you had a lot, but mostly sorrow you can see” – it is a sudden vacuum. New, as in adolescence, existential loneliness: you are the only one in the world and you try to understand what to do with your life.

In this new life a man, in general, is not specifically needed by anyone. Loved ones will survive without him. On the labor market he is considered rigid, unable to grasp new technologies, they do not teach him “because after his forties learning something is difficult”. I myself have heard this phrase with my own ears. On the other hand – it is troublesome to prove that you are a key person, to plug almost every hole in a project, to burn midnight oil: suddenly you realize that the time is a limited resource, and it is running out. All the time there is a vision of a sandglass, and the sand is flowing out, and there is more of it on the bottom, and even less above. You are sitting in some stupid meeting – and it is flowing out…

This new life is kind of postmortem. There is no longer a usual daily routine: you do not have to wake anyone up in the mornings, to cook lunch and dinner for anyone. There is no need to attend PTA meetings, to berate anyone for dirty socks in the room. It is possible to do less cleaning and cooking.

There suddenly appears the time that can be spent on a job or manicure, or on something meaningful, but you need to consider first: what exactly is meaningful? Maybe, a job or manicure are meaningful? Because manicure is simple joy, and a job is a difference that you can make? But do you have to make a difference? For whom? Why? Do you have to reject simple joy? Whom do you owe it to?

In this new life you are left alone with yourself and God – from Whom it is time to stop hiding. Now you have the time, even when you technically do not have it because you have filled the planner with a hundred parallel projects – and already failed one beforehand, because it is already clear now that you cannot be on three jobs in two cities simultaneously, and all of them, by the way, are due on Holy Week.

This is a pause – a time of silence when something should grow inside that does not have a name yet. When you are not going anywhere because you do not know where to.

When you just live in the moment because you have no clue about tomorrow (right, there are planner records, but who cares). Because there is this text, a sleeping dog and Schubert’s music in the earphones.

But I have no clue about tomorrow.

This article was translated from Russian by Julia Frolova.

Since you are here…

…we do have a small request. More and more people visit Orthodoxy and the World website. However, resources for editorial are scarce. In comparison to some mass media, we do not make paid subscription. It is our deepest belief that preaching Christ for money is wrong.

Having said that, Pravmir provides daily articles from an autonomous news service, weekly wall newspaper for churches, lectorium, photos, videos, hosting and servers. Editors and translators work together towards one goal: to make our four websites possible -,, and Therefore our request for help is understandable.

For example, 5 euros a month is it a lot or little? A cup of coffee? It is not that much for a family budget, but it is a significant amount for Pravmir.

If everyone reading Pravmir could donate 5 euros a month, they would contribute greatly to our ability to spread the word of Christ, Orthodoxy, life's purpose, family and society.