Lonely? A New Perspective On Time Alone

I was working with a Grief Coaching client the other day, and she said that while she was doing okay in general, and feeling that her life was mostly in order after the loss of her husband over 2 years ago, there was one feeling she just couldn’t shake: how lonely she continued to feel each day. 

LonelyLoneliness is an epidemic in our country and is more pervasive and perhaps even more impactful than any physical virus. Why? Because for most grievers, feeling lonely can often bring with it feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Meaning each day that a person finds themselves in a lonely state they will feel even more powerless to change it.

To some degree, it makes sense. If we’re lonely after the loss of a spouse and we either haven’t been able or don’t intend to find another partner to share space with, we’ll continue to feel lonely forever. If we’ve lost a beloved parent, especially one we cared for or even lived with, we’ll never be able to feel anything but the loneliness of the void they left.

Right?

Let’s take a minute to break down some of the language and understand that being alone and feeling lonely are not the same thing. They absolutely can go together, and for someone who has lost someone they shared living space with, feeling lonely is almost 100% guaranteed to be experienced at some point while grieving.

But are we forever sentenced to be a victim of our circumstances? Or can we be alone, without feeling lonely?

We do not choose loss, and when it comes to the death of someone we shared a home with, the intense loneliness of living alone is a huge adjustment.

In the beginning we’re likely to feel like victims because, let’s face it, we are- to the sadness and cruelty of life and to a world where we don’t get to live and die together with the people we love most…

But with time, can there be a shift?

With my Grief Coaching client she was lamenting about feeling lonely all the time, but as we brainstormed some ideas of things that would help she admitted, “you know I’m really not much of a social person, I never have been”.

So we continued to talk about expectations in loss and how when so much has changed, we may believe that the only cure for loneliness will be if we make very big changes too. Become a joiner, spend time with lots of people, put yourself out there, try something new…perhaps someone has even suggested this to you.

When feeling lonely and trying to move forward in grief we need to start by assessing and understanding what it is we truly want, and even more importantly: what we don’t want.

When it comes to socializing, we all have different comfort levels, and it’s important to recognize who you were, and how you socialized, before this loss. 

Did you like being surrounded by people? Were you an extrovert? Separate from your partnership, did you have a lot of friends, were you a joiner, did you like being on committees and clubs? 

Or did you like quieter, solitary activities that didn’t typically involve others? Would you label yourself more of an introvert? 

This isn’t exactly a case of trying to go back or recapture “the old me” but instead to recognize that while so much changes after loss, our comfort zones usually don’t. And returning to some old habits or routines is usually a much easier transition for a griever (at least initially) than trying to become a wholly new person or starting something entirely new.

For the extrovert: try returning to an activity you once enjoyed. If you’ve moved away from a club, organization or even a group of friends, see if you can make your way back. If location or circumstances make that an unrealistic option, then see what other opportunities exist where you are and for who you are now. Get involved with a cause or a non-profit, maybe something that’s perhaps related to your loved one’s loss.

And for the introvert? That’s where the real work begins. Because let’s face it, if we didn’t feel comfortable in certain situations before, we’re not real likely to be starting now – as an older person, more set in our ways, with limited emotional and physical energy to try new things following a significant loss.

For my Grief Coaching client, getting involved wasn’t the answer for her. Certainly not right now, and maybe not ever since as she said, it had never been her thing. Yet she was finding herself at home, feeling chronically sad and lonely. She didn’t want to be alone, but she didn’t want to have to go and meet a lot of new people and the conflicting feelings were causing even more stress.

I suggested an exercise in perspective.

“Every time you are home alone and feeling bad and unhappy about being there, I want you to do something,” I said to her. “Picture a split screen in your mind of where you are and where you could be. On one side is you at home alone. The other is you out in a crowd, or part of a new group, or in a situation where you’re trying to meet new people and make new friends. And for each, you need to really tap into all the thoughts and feelings and sensations that would accompany each scenario”.

She didn’t have to think long before she said, “I think I’m more comfortable at home”.

Being alone doesn’t have to mean feeling lonely, especially if we’ve taken some time and done the grief work to adjust to loss. We’ll always miss the person we shared a home with, always wish they were there. But as we try to adapt to our circumstances, working to find comfort while alone can be the single greatest thing we can do to ensure a lifetime of peace, contentment and healing.

Is this to say we avoid society all together? Of course not. This isn’t about isolating ourselves but instead understanding better who we were, who we are, and where our comfort zone is. It could be as simple as asking yourself and recognizing, if I was never a group person or a joiner before, why would I necessarily find comfort in that now? Can it be about embracing who we REALLY are (and maybe always have been) instead?

Perhaps at some point, through the process of healing we do choose to step outside of that comfort zone. But for now, for the person who feels lonely but knows being with people isn’t the answer – look at alone time in a different way. As a respite, a sanctuary, a retreat. From a world that looks very different without your loved one with it, and a place that can feel overwhelming and stressful at times.

We would never choose to lose a loved one, but taking ownership of alone time as a choice, for who you are and where you are in the present, can replace feelings of being a victim with strength and empowerment instead.

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Being comfortable anywhere after loss can seem almost impossible. Besides the challenges of adjusting to a life without our loved one in it, the people who ARE around us may just not understand our loss and all that goes with it. 

Helping grievers who are feeling lonely is the #1 reason www.griefincommon.com was created.

By joining us today you can:

  1. Participate in our forums by going to “See and Share Stories”
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Get help, find support, ease the loneliness. We’re here to help.

~www.griefincommon.com 

6 thoughts on “Lonely? A New Perspective On Time Alone”

  1. This article could have been written just for me. It supports how I feel and lets me know I am not the only one feeling this way. It has give me confirmation and food for thought.

    Thank you

  2. A very insightful blog. When my husband died I determined that I would not be lonely, just alone. One of the great strengths of our relationship was that we were able to be alone together. That is we allowed each other to have solitary time whilst sharing the same space. Now I just have to do it in my own.

  3. I had 26 wonderful years with my wife,it was amazing how we met but I believe it was an act of God. She is gone over six years and I still miss her. She had breast cancer at 59,two years later she passed away with Glioblastoma,brain cancer. We went through hell with it. I so miss her,all the things we planned to do in retirement.I have allot of loving family for support but it can’t replace the loss. My Cocker Spaniel is my soul mate now but I still want to share my life with someone who I can make me feel needed and loved as only a spouse can do.

  4. This time of social distancing and quarantine makes this blog entry even more timely. Being at home, by myself, without my husband through this Covid-19 health crisis puts the spotlight on the solitude of widowhood as a practical, daily existence. But looking at this “alone” time as a gift to do my grief work and cultivate those more peaceful pursuits has been a comfort from the chaos out there in the world right now.

  5. Loss my first husband much younger in life. He left to help a cousin and never made it home. I was left very young with a new born baby. Had no idea where life would take me.

    Loss my 2nd husband in March 2019.He went to his mom’s and never made it home. Heart-attack.. It’s been really hard living my life alone when it was filled with so much love and adventure. I miss my life with my husband as much as I miss him. It hard when he was my life over 30 years.

  6. I have never felt alone before my loss but now I find it very hard to cope. I have even moved in to my mothers place. While I seem to progress otherwise in my grief, this thing with not standing beeing alone doesn’t change and it’s been now four months of grieving. Is there anybody else how recognize this situation? I have travelled round the world all by myself but now I find it hard to go to the nearest supermarket by myself. I get anxious and feelings of emptynes.

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