Loneliness and Solitude in Grief

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Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone. ~ Paul Tillich

If you are among those traveling the winding path of grief, you're probably quite familiar with both these sides of being alone: loneliness and solitude.

With an overwhelming sense of missing the one you love comes the crushing awareness of all that you have lost. You’d give anything to be together again, if only long enough to be relieved of your loneliness and to be reassured that your loved one is still a part of your life.

At other times you may feel a need for solitude. You’ll want to be by yourself, to get away from other people and withdraw temporarily from the pressures and decisions of daily life. This need to turn inward, to reflect on your loss, to get in touch with your innermost feelings is common and not to be feared. In fact it can be a helpful time for you to find your tears and figure out where you are going from here.

Isolation from Others
Our culture isn’t comfortable with the subject of death, and few of us know how to cope with the pain of loss and grief. We don’t permit or encourage the free expression of sorrow. Instead we learn to control our feelings and hide our pain so we won’t disturb other people. As a child you may have learned that grief is a taboo subject, that feelings should be buried, and that grieving should be done alone. As an adult you may equate grieving with self indulgence or self-pity. You may be too embarrassed or ashamed to let your emotions show in front of others. You may feel isolated, different and apart from everyone else, convinced that no one understands and you must grieve alone. You may feel stunned at the normalcy of life around you as people go about their business, totally unaware that your world has stopped and your entire life has been turned upside down.

You may be reluctant to turn to others, either because you haven’t learned to accept or ask for help, or because you’re afraid others won’t know what to do with your feelings. If they’re unfamiliar with the intensity and duration of grief or uncomfortable with the expression of strong emotions, they may offer only meaningless platitudes or clichés, change the subject or avoid you altogether. And there may be times when you will feel hurt by thoughtless, trivializing comments such as: It was God’s will; I know how you feel; Life must go on; Count your blessings; You must be strong for your children; It could be worse; or At least s/he had a good life.

Some people you know may be done with your grieving long before you are, expecting you to be “over it by now” or worrying that you’re somehow “hanging on” to your grief. Uncomfortable with your strong feelings, they may change the subject or avoid any mention of your loved one’s name.

Suggestions for Coping with Loneliness and Isolation:
  • Think about who is supportive to you in your environment and what gives your life purpose and direction (family members, pets, relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers, teachers, colleagues, clubs, athletic activities, groups, church groups, support groups, bereavement counselor). With whom are you most comfortable, and who is the most comfortable (accepting and caring) with your grief? Look for those who will listen without judging you, or for those who have suffered a similar loss.

  • Find time with others to talk, to touch, to receive support. Be honest with others about what you’re feeling. Allow yourself to express your sadness rather than masking it.

  • Don’t expect others to guess what you need. When you want to be touched, held, hugged, listened to or pampered, say so.

  • If all you want from others is help with simple errands, tasks, and repairs, say so.

  • Let others (especially children) know if and when you need to be alone, so they won’t feel rejected.

  • Go somewhere and have a good, long cry— and do it as often as you wish. You have every right to miss the person who has died. Accept your feelings as normal.

  • Find time alone to process what’s happened: to remember, to dream, and to think.

  • Identify your loneliest times, and think of how you can alter your routines and environment (for example, rearrange the furniture in a room; plan your weekends ahead of time; use your microwave for quick, easy meals).

  • While some folks really are thoughtless and don’t think before they speak, bear in mind that many well meaning individuals have yet to experience a significant loss, so they really don’t know what grief feels like, or how to respond, or what to say. They aren’t deliberately trying to hurt you. You can choose to bear with such people, you can enlighten them about what you know of grief, or you can look to others who are more understanding to find the support you need.

  • Realize that no one can totally understand the relationship you had with your loved one.

  • Ask people to remember, talk about and share stories about your loved one with you.

  • Become more aware of how your own usage of words affects other people. Rather than saying something hurtful, admit that you don’t know what to say.

  • Consider getting a companion animal (which can be a wonderful source of unconditional love), but only after you’ve investigated what kind of pet would suit you and your lifestyle.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.
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