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The Loneliness of Grief

Even as we cope with grief, we can ease a inevitable sense of loneliness

“I never expected grief to be so lonely”. That is how Marge reacted to the death of husband, Tony. Marge shared that she had expected all sorts of feelings–the anger, the sadness, and the guilt. She had felt these before when her parents had died. She was, after all, no kid. No stranger to grief.

Some losses such as the loss of a spouse or a close companion bring that overwhelming sense of loneliness. We live day by day with that person. We share so much of life that there is an absence of that person’s presence in our life. We feel it daily, even hourly.

Sometimes the loneliness is the daily kind. We miss the shared meals. We long to wake up with the person or simply to watch television together. We wish we could call as we once did. We turn in the middle of a movie or newscast to share a moment or a memory. No one, however, is there.

Moreover, once part of a couple, we now live as a single. For some, friends and even families may have related as a couple. Our loneliness can be compounded when others seem unready or unwilling to accommodate this change. Marge, for example, began to feel excluded from some of the same circles that once welcomed both Tony and her.

Other times, it might be crisis loneliness. We now have to face crises, whether big or small, alone. We may long for the support or counsel of the person who died. Here the loneliness may be laced with a sense of anxiety or even panic. We simply do not know how we can face this crisis alone. We are scared.

Loneliness also can be present as we face the milestones of life. We miss the opportunity to share these moments – to celebrate together graduations, weddings and births with someone who truly is invested in that event as deeply as we are.

Filling that empty space, that loneliness, is a great challenge in grief.

The first step is to assess. When is the loneliness the greatest? Are their times of the week or the day where that loneliness is more intense? Once we see a pattern, we can find a solution. For Marge, Sunday afternoons had been a quiet time with Tony. They might shop together, do chores or simply enjoy time with one another. Once she realized how intensely lonely she was on Sundays, she made sure that she always had plans for Sunday afternoons. On that day, she planned never to be alone.

Later, Marge even volunteered on Sunday afternoon to work at her Parish’s food pantry. Not only was this a weekly diversion from her home, but volunteering also filled other needs. She began to work with the other volunteers, building new relationships. Marge also learned the great secret of help – when you help others you help yourself. For Marge volunteering strengthened her own self-esteem and her own sense of self-competence,

Cultivation, then, is another strategy to combat loneliness. We can cultivate new relationships, drawing strengths from that support. We can also cultivate our own inner resources, our own personal strengths, and our own spirituality. When we recognize how strong we can be, even in difficult times, we may feel less alone.