The Haunting Echoes of Loneliness

The Haunting Echoes of Loneliness

Delivered by Yeow Chern Chou on 11 March 2013.

Ravi, an IT Manager at a Multi-National Company was doing Community Service this Chinese New Year. His role was to spread the joy of the festive season with the distribution of hampers and red packets to the old folks living in the 1-room flats around Bendemeer. But what joy preconceived quickly melted away as he walked through those dimly lit corridors. On his way to the designated unit, there were groans from one house, empty stares from other neighbors wondering who he is. There was this heavy stench of helplessness and hopelessness in the air.

Finally, he reached the household in his planned visit. In it were two old couples in their 80’s.

The wife saw Ravi, and began shaking his hand in gratitude. Yet, she was weeping and trembling. In tears, she said that she was actually contemplating suicide. “What is the use of living? Look at me! It’s better to die”. Her voice echoed the haunting emptiness in her heart and left Ravi speechless.


In May 2012, The Straits Times published a study revealing 1 in 5 Singaporean elderly over 80 years old said they were lonely and depressed. The big concern is that a rise in elderly depression has caused suicide rates to spike too. Already we have seen our elderly suicide rates at levels twice; that of United States (or 28% for every 100,000).

In her lifetime, Mother Teresa saw people die from virtually every affliction known in the third world. Before she died, someone asked her, “What is the worst disease you have seen?” Her response to the question was, “Loneliness”. “Of all the diseases I have known,” said Mother Theresa, “loneliness is the worst.”


Some of you may say, “Loneliness is only with the old”. Think again. A survey of Secondary students in Singapore revealed that 20% suffers from acute loneliness and stress. The Happiness survey also ranked Singaporeans as one of the least happy among all global citizens. Like any disease, loneliness can strike quickly and at any stage in life. It afflicts the rich and the poor, the young and the old. None of you are immune.

The roots of loneliness are very deep and cannot be touched by optimistic advertisement, substitute love images or social togetherness. They find their food in the suspicion that there is no one who cares and offers love without condition, and no place where we can be vulnerable without being used.

The irony of our times is that while Technology allows us to be constantly connected to the world can also make us even more disconnected from each other and ourselves. Two recent studies in the US have shown that cell phones can have a negative impact on close relationships. In our age of Smart Phones and i-Pads that promises connectedness and perceived intimacy, I find it such an irony that loneliness continues to plaque..

Ever felt lonely? You might have felt it when the audience did not respond to your carefully prepared speeches.

Ever felt lonely? Long working hours with endless meetings and deadlines, not knowing what they are for at the end of the day.

Ever felt lonely? When you wonder why nobody calls your phone.

What should you do, when the emptiness shouts, that loneliness strikes?

First, be Still and Silent. Listen attentively to your own struggle. Don’t rush. If you know that the roots of loneliness are so deep and cannot be touched by optimistic advertisement, substitute love images or social togetherness, and then I say to you, in the words of Henri Nouwen “Do not run, but be quiet and silent. The answer to your question is hidden in your own heart”.

Second, Learn to Like yourself. Sages through the ages have admonished us that the "interior world" holds the secret to well-being rather than the external world of "connectivity". Instead of rushing out to the next relationship to fill that abyss you feel within you, start recognizing your own beauty, seeing who we are with the eyes of love. Stop that viscous self-criticism and begin warmly accepting myself. In the end, what you need may not be a lover, but you yourself.

The Haunting Echoes of Loneliness; This is a common disease, and it is in many ways, the worst disease. None of us is immune, but we don’t have to fear. If we can resist rushing to another person, another activity to fill our void and start by (1) Learning to Be Still and Silent, and (2) Learn to Like Yourself… Slowly, you will sense the very loneliness that haunts you can then be transformed into a garden of solitude, clarifying the vision of your soul, reviving your life, rejuvenating your spirit. Then you would find the world need not be cold, but can be colorful. That every solitary walk can be a trip towards self-discovery.

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