The Cape Violet, how lonely people may blossom again

Tuesday 16 April 2019

‘Grandma is a little lonely, so we have registered her for an afternoon of bingo.’ Confess: it could be you saying this. When it comes to loneliness, we love to think in solutions. “But loneliness is not in the fact that someone is alone”, knows Evelyn Finnema, lector at the Talma Lectorate Living, Wellbeing and Care at Old Age at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences. ,,Even with a hundred people around you, you can still be lonely. It is about the feeling that you still mean something to another person.’’

kaaps viooltje

More and More Loneliness

When it comes to loneliness, we often directly think of elderly people. However, this is not correct, says Evelyn Finnema. ,,Research shows that more and more people, in all age categories, experience loneliness.

Often, this feeling is entwined with other problems or limitations. You may feel lonely because you have lost a loved one. Or because you feel excluded and have the feeling not to belong. But it may also be that your world keeps getting smaller because of an illness or diminished mobility. In short: there is no one-size-fits-all solution for loneliness.’’

In practice, however, Finnema experiences that ready-made solutions are often relied on. ,,That is our natural response: someone who feels lonely is taken to an afternoon of games, a Christmas dinner or another activity. Very well-intentioned, but we all know that feeling of being at a party where you do not know a soul. It does not matter how many people are there, you feel lonely anyway. The same applies for a games afternoon. When you have a shared past or points of contact, you may be able to chit chat, but you do not feel less lonely afterwards.’’

Cape Violet

The solution is to be found in breaching the loneliness, Finnema thinks. ,,For instance the story of the elderly lady with little social contacts. She regularly worked in her garden, until the neighbours started noticing her less often. Social work was involved.

During the conversation, the social worker noticed a Cape violet on the table. The elderly lady turned out to be growing the plants herself. This gave life to the thought to give violets to people in the neighbourhood who were having a difficult time. In other words: her skills were called upon; the elderly lady regained a role in her life and was again of importance to other people.’’

Sharing With the Professional Field

The lectorate loves to share these kinds of positive experiences with the professional field. The lectorate developed an introduction course and workshops ‘A Different View On Loneliness’. ,,In these, we teach both professionals as well as volunteers in the health care and wellbeing sector how they are able to detect loneliness”, Finnema explains.

,,We do not provide ready-made solutions, but above all we teach them to look into what someone loves doing and would require to breach the feeling of loneliness. The message: always look for the Cape violet; that one thing that makes someone feel that he or she matters.‘’