May 17, 2021
First, let me acknowledge that this isn’t the case for every person who grieves. And of course, experiencing seasons of alone-ness as we grieve is perfectly normal and I would argue, necessary.
Here I want to explore the feeling of loneliness that can sometimes creep into the alone times.
But first, let me define ‘loneliness’ and distinguish it from being alone. Loneliness is defined in many different ways, with the resounding feature being a feeling of isolation or disconnectedness from others. Believe it or not, entire studies explore the concept of loneliness, with one in particular examining whether it’s a disease. Don’t believe me? Read more here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3890922/.
Being alone, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily imply emotional isolation. It may simply involve spending time with oneself for various reasons.
As far back as I can recall, I’ve enjoyed my own company. Occasionally, I reflect on memories of my dolls lined up on my bed, with me serving as their teacher. Blame it on a six-year age gap between me and my older brother, my temperament, or military family upbringing, I’ve always felt content entertaining myself.
Though it’s possible that loneliness had settled in throughout the first two years, I was too busy to notice. Determined to ‘keep it moving’ and ‘be strong,’ I forged my way ahead alone. My grief avoidance manifested in the form of workaholism, people pleasing, and other forms of escapism.
Immediate family and close friends showed up for me, though I realized at the end of the day, grieving is a solitary experience on so many levels. In the most random of moments, and often times when no one else was readily available, grief always seemed to rears its head. Go figure!
While I knew I wasn’t alone, in terms of folks interacting with me, I also quickly learned that the work of grief is something that can only be done by me.
So I did what I did best. I kept going. Kept quiet. Kept ignoring the pain.
That is, until I found myself wandering along the shore in Venice Beach in the middle of the night. I felt the rawness of my grief as I fumbled through the shell-filled sand. In search of connection, I desperately attempted to call those closest to me. I needed to be heard and experience my grief witnessed. However, my pain was met with voice mail after voice mail. No one answered the phone that night.
First, who answers the phone in the wee hours of the night? (Duh, they’re sleeping!) Second, this wasn’t my norm. Friends and family knew me as the person who listened to other’s problems vs. them listening to mine. Third, I’d busied myself so much that I didn’t really create space for deep connection, especially with regard to my grief.
So it was just me and God. Face to face with the moon staring back at me, lighting up the ocean. I’d never experienced that degree of emotional isolation and disconnection in life. It was as if I were the only person on the shore, with everything blurry and intangible in the distance.
I cried out to God in that tender moment. And He sat with me until I looked up and saw the sun rising against the water. While still alone, the feeling of loneliness began to fade. I realized that yes, grieving alone can feel lonely, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be.
Friend, whether you believe in God or not, have a huge circle of friends or not, or live in a large or small community, you can take steps to help prevent loneliness.
Well let me remind you that in the early years of my grief journey, I simply kept going. I kept quiet. And I ignored the pain. You don’t need to travel the same road I did as you grieve. While you may be alone — even by choice, be mindful of things you might do to avoid loneliness.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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