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Alone in the darkness of over 50s
by Katerina Charisi
2017-02-05 11:47:37
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Helen and Andrea are sisters; both in their fifties. A small quiet local café in their neighbourhood is where they meet for coffee every single Sunday morning to share their news. Helen has moved in her mother’s 27 square meters flat, almost 4 years ago. By moving in it means that she put a sofa that turns to a single bed next to her mother’s couch that she also uses as a bed for the last 35 years and the small coffee table. Helen got married right after school the man who gave her a greasy piece of pizza every Saturday evening while passing by with her girlfriends on their way to the movies. Next, marriage and immediately work at his pizza place.

“I never thought of myself as an employee”, she says. “It was our own business, our family business, my business too. I never got paid, I was not insures and I never took a single day off, we all lived from this small pizzeria. And no, I never thought about any other future. Now couples sign all these pre-marriage contracts, or at least that’s what they show on TV, but who actually thinks of “future securing” when they are in love and about to get married? Well, not me anyway, I never did.”


Helen’s husband asked for a divorce almost 4 years ago. He met a younger woman who …maybe came for a greasy slice of pizza on Saturday evenings like she did and he decided that he wanted another chance in love before it was too late. Since her husband owns the pizzeria and the small apartment above, Helen all of the sudden found herself in her 48 years, divorced, unemployed and actually homeless. Now she is 52 and she’s back with her mother, unable to find a job or settler.

“It’s unfair. Just so unfair. Why? I never stopped working for almost 35 years. I never saw my children growing up. Others did, not me. I was always working. And now …just look at me. What am I supposed to do? Who is going to hire a 52 year old woman soaked in grease, with pink burn-marks all over her hands? They didn’t give me a job when I was 48, why would they hire me in my 52?”

Her sister shakes her head and lowers her eyes. She feels ashamed and it is obvious, even though she wants she cannot help her sister.

Andrea is 54 years old. She jokes about being lucky to become a mother at 16. Before even turning 30, her son was old enough for staying home alone without a baby sitter anymore. And it was only a few years later that he rent a house 200 km away from her. “Lucky me!” she giggles. “I did my duties before even becoming 35. God knows how hard it is to raise a child while you are a child yourself; but now I thank God for not having to pay for his studies while I can barely survive myself. The last few years have been just too much, you know...”and she let the rest of the sentence to trail into silence.

Andrea was a freelancer for all her life, starting and closing small neighbourhood shops randomly. Her latest and current business investment, a little corner shoe-shop in a street that is almost empty of stores, all of them victims of the bad recession. The ‘investment’ has stopped making any kind of dignifying income the last two years. From the few pairs  of shoes she manage to sell all the money go straight to her suppliers, the two rents - one for the shop and one for her apartment - and the bills. For her own expenses, she gets money from her mother, who, with her small pension, now supports again and after so many years both her daughters. Andrea insists that she’s only borrowing that money; maybe because she is too ashamed to admit that in her 54 she cannot survive on her own.

She knows that keeping her little store still open doesn’t make any difference from closing it down, but she refuses to do so. She just hopes that things will get better, even though deep inside she doesn’t believe it anymore.

“I cannot imagine myself waking up one morning and having nowhere to go. It’s so easy to lose yourself this way”, she says and looks sideways her sister. “I do make a lot of phone calls for jobs I see in the newspapers, but the answer is always “no, thank you”, and that usually comes right after I tell them my age.”

“There are a lot of expenses that you never pay any attention at, until you are not able to cover them anymore”, Helen adds and shows me a bad tooth in a really ugly shape that probably hurts a lot. “A visit to the dentist would cost me anything from 40 to 200 euros, depending on what my mouth needs. But this is only one of the things I can’t pay for anymore. There are a lot more, maybe less important than a bad tooth that hurts badly, but crucial for my mental health. Like this cup of coffee on sunny Sunday mornings with my sister. Our mother pays even for this.”

They both agree that they only have each other now. “You can’t keep friendships without money, you know. When you can’t even afford a bus ticket to visit a friend things change. You can only call. But then when you have nothing else to talk about apart from the job you don’t have and the bills you can’t pay, you even stop calling. Or your friends stop calling you.”

The sisters hold each other’s hands. “There is nowhere more I could save money from, except maybe the food. I might spend only 30 euros for the week’s meals, but that would mean that I would buy only the cheapest, and for how long am I going to keep my health this way?” Andrea’s eyes shine full of tears.

According to Employment Statistics , The employment rates of women and older workers are generally lower. In 2014, the employment rate for men was 70.1% in the EU-28, to the 59.6% for women. The employment rate of men was significantly higher than female employment rates in all Member States of the EU-28 in 2014.


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