I recently read that ladies are generally the happier sex in the elder years. Having experienced some time with both of my parents, I understood exactly what the article referred to when I thought about it.
Generally speaking, women are healthier than men, at least until a later age. My father’s health declined and he was made unhappy by the things he could not do. A long-time ‘putterer,’ he resented being unable to get up in the morning and go out to work around the house, or to go fishing or some other recreational activity. To be tied to the house was a punishment to him. Women, meanwhile, tend to have a well-developed social network. While men have a social network of buddies outside the home, women have it developed more from a home base and through their families.
Related to social networks, a widow has a tendency to renew connections once she is on her own, perhaps even take up new activities that she’s been unable to do previously due to her commitments at home.
A widower, on the other hand, feels trapped by the needs of the home and tends to feel loneliness much more deeply.
I recognize, by the way, that there may be generational differences brought about by certain stereotypes. In my parents’ generation, the majority of the men worked outside the home and the majority of women worked inside the home.
I must confess to being a bit surprised by the relief my mother felt after my father passed away. For two years we had worried about the effects of him being confined to the house without duly considering the effects of my mother’s confinement providing him with care. She had always been around the house and we assumed she liked that territory, but it’s one thing to choose to be around the house and another entirely to feel imprisoned by it. Her decision to go into an eldercare home after his death was, I believe, a decision to leave her confinement behind and be in a much more social setting.
Had my mother passed away first, I am absolutely certain that my father would have stayed in the house until it either fell down around him or he was carried out of it. I am equally convinced he’d have been lonely and miserable on his own.
In the odd conversation my wife and I have about our own future, despite a differing husband/wife role than our parents, I sense the same patterns of thinking. My wife does not like to be alone, and if I depart the world before her, she’s not sure what her next plan will be. But it won’t be living alone in our house. She’s not a compulsive social butterfly, but she prefers company to solitude.
Me, I’m banking on being the first to go as I don’t want to think about anything else. But if I really consider it, I expect I will be exactly like my father might have been. I can look after myself, and will likely continue to believe that long after I can’t, and I will likely hole up in my house, save for the occasional grumpy-old-man venture outside to tell the neighbourhood kids to get off my lawn with their bikes, or turn their music down.
Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare (firstname.lastname@example.org).