Loneliness: ‘It was awful watching out the window, hoping that somebody would be coming’

By the time Annette Egan was in her late 60s, she had reached ‘rock bottom’ in terms of social isolation after living alone in her childhood home for 27 years

Annette Egan lived alone in her Dublin childhood home for 27 years after her parents died. By the time she was in her late 60s — she’s 73 now — she had reached rock bottom in terms of social isolation.

“I had no visitors to the house at all, hardly. It was awful there every day, going into the front room and watching out the window and hoping that somebody would be coming. But hardly anyone was coming,” she says. “In my 60s, I wouldn’t even bother getting dressed. I’d go around in my pyjamas and dressing gown all day because there wouldn’t be anyone coming to the door.”

Living on Rugby Road in Ranelagh, she says: “I don’t know hardly anyone on this road now. The people I grew up with, they all got married and left the road and all our parents are now deceased.”

In her late teens and early 20s she recalls how she used to go dancing with friends at the weekend. “But it’s a good while since I did that,” she chuckles. People at work “would be all too wrapped up in their own lives. You’d never make a friend you’d work with as they would all have different interests to yourself,” says Annette who never married and never wanted children.


She was only 21 when her mother died and she struggled with her being taken so early. A regular Mass-goer up to then, “I never darkened the church only for my father’s funeral 19 years after that. I am not a Catholic any more. I have my own religion to do with the spirit world.”

It was after Annette started using the befriending service of Alone in 2016, that the latest chapter of her life began to pick up. Every week a volunteer calls to her house to see her.

“You look forward to a visitor coming, I think the world of my visitors. I like them to come as often as they can and I make them a cup of tea, or whatever they want, and we have a chat. Sometimes we sit out in the front garden.” Increased social interaction and support lifted her spirits.

“I said to myself one day I would have to pull myself together and decide what I want to do for my future.” She thought about selling up and moving to a flat but decided she wouldn’t like that. However, “I was leaving myself wide open to somebody to put me into a home and I didn’t want that. I had happy years here when I was younger, with my mother.”

Instead she embarked on what she calls her “project” to get the house done up and take in lodgers.

“When I got the inclination that I might let out upstairs, I went and had a chat with the bank manager and arranged a loan. It all took off from there.”

She feels much safer now with other people living in the house. “When you’ve noise in the rooms you’ve no burglars, or anybody coming to the house with a knife to kill you.” What’s more, she has company. “We meet in the hall and in the kitchen.”

Her accounts keep her busy and she uses the rent money to make constant improvements in the house. “I am as clear as a bell mentally. Only the body has slowed down.” She uses a rollator outside the house and a stick inside. One of the lodgers, who has very recently left, used to offer to walk up and down the road with her before dinner. Anybody in her position with empty rooms in their house should consider doing the same, she suggests, especially as accommodation is so badly needed in Dublin. She is delighted that she has helped herself and others.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t get up at half six in the morning. Everyone in the house is asleep so you just relax and I call it ‘my time’. In the afternoon when they’re either working or gone out, I have more ‘my time’.” She might have a chat with them in the kitchen in the early evening for a few minutes before she retires to her room for the night. So life is better now? “There is no comparison whatsoever,” she replies. Apart from the years when her mother was alive, “now is the happiest time of my later life”.

Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman

Sheila Wayman, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, family and parenting