Shock. Denial. Sorrow. Anger. The waves of grief knock you off your feet, then wash out to sea, only to come crashing back just as you regain your footing. Fortunately, the intensity of these feelings in the early stages of grief will ease with time, and your life will return to a more manageable state. After the funeral, after the thank-you cards have been written and you’ve had time to rest and recover, you’ll go back to work, to your hobbies, to church…you’ll return to your daily routine.
With one big difference. Now, when you come home at the end of the day, you face the silence alone. You didn’t think it could get any worse then the mind-numbing grief you felt immediately following your loss, but now here you are in a quiet, empty house, wondering if this is all there is.
Loneliness: The Worst Part of Grief
Men and women who are widowed or divorced tell us that loneliness is the worst part of losing their spouse or partner. The same holds true for single parents who have a lost a child or a beloved pet. Prior to your loss, your life was devoted to your loved one. Now you wonder what you’ll do with yourself – you may even wonder who you are without your loved one.
Loneliness vs. Being Alone
But there is hope. It’s important to understand the distinction between loneliness and being alone. Being alone is the reality of your existence now; loneliness, on the other hand, is a state of mind, and you can overcome it.
We all know perfectly happy people who live alone. Perhaps they simply enjoy the solitude, or perhaps their lives are so full with people, things, and activities, they don’t even stop to think about being alone. They have learned to be at peace with themselves – and you can be, too.
The first step is to recognize and acknowledge your own loneliness, and then accept the fact that this is a temporary situation. As you work through your grief, you will find meaningful ways to fill your life. The answers aren’t the same for every person, but here are some actions you can take to shed your loneliness and adjust to your new life alone.
Actions to Overcome Loneliness
- Learn to like yourself. When all is said and done, you are your own best friend. If your self-esteem needs a boost, consider talking to a counselor or asking your doctor or pastor to recommend some good reading to help you through this difficult time. Look for books on how to care for yourself or re-parent yourself. You can do this.
- Help others. Helping others is a sure-fire way to forget your own problems. Although nothing will bring back your loved one, you can find meaning in life by caring for others. Consider volunteering time with your favorite charity or helping a sick or elderly neighbor with household chores.
- Prayer and journaling. If you believe in a Higher Power, prayer can bring amazing comfort and peace. Writing is another way to discover and express your feelings, and keep a journal is not only cathartic, but will also help you see how far you’ve come as time goes by.
- Seek out people with similar interests. People who are lonely often talk about how hard it is to meet someone, and that’s true – if you’re trying to meet “someone.“ But the world is full of wonderful, interesting people, and they’re pretty easy to find. Many of them congregate in groups based on common interests. Church groups, block clubs, reading circles, political organizations, adult education classes, bowling leagues – the list goes on and on. Find a group that interests you, and finds ways to participate in and contribute to the activities of the group. Focus on what you can do for the group, and friendships are sure to follow.
- Create an action plan. As you adapt to this new life, there will be good days and bad days. You can prepare for the bad days by making a list of all the things want to do: garden or household projects, lunches with friends, trips to the museum, books you want to read – anything that gives you pleasure. Refer to this list when you’re feeling lonely and don’t know what to do with yourself, and take action to help yourself feel better.
Share Your Strategy for Coping
Do you have a secret strategy for coping with loneliness? Please consider sharing your thoughts and experience to help others.