It is my belief that my grandmother died of a lonely heart. Three weeks after the birth of my first child, my grandmother passed away. As I was just learning to raise a little human, I found myself saying goodbye to someone who raised me.
What struck me most about my grandmother's life were her last five years. They were her loneliest. For someone who had been the matriarch of a family and whose home was the center of family gatherings, feeling lonely was not something that she was prepared for.
After my grandfather passed away, and people grew older and moved on with their lives, my grandmother suddenly found herself spending her days alone. She lived in India, and I in the United States. Besides trying to visit her as often as I could and calling her several times a week, I often felt helpless with her greatest struggle: the overwhelming feeling of loneliness.
I often wonder what she must have been feeling sitting in the silence of her home that once was the center of merriment and gatherings. They say that silence is golden. But sometimes silence peels off the outer layers of our soul and forces us to be with the core of who we are.
How long could you spend by yourself?
For most of us, it won't be too long before we start to crave some kind of human connection. That is what we are naturally wired to do.
This is what I learned about loneliness from my grandmother:
1) Feeling lonely is inevitable
At some point in our lives, we will all feel lonely. Whether it is feeling left out in grade school or the isolation of old age, loneliness is inevitable.
I don't say this to sound grim, but we must come to terms with the fact that we have to learn to be alone. We cannot expect others to fulfill our need for love. Love starts from within.
We can cherish others, but we should not depend on them. If you get upset every time someone does not call you or every time someone changes their plans with you, then you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
The truth is, that we cannot control what others may do or say. The only person you control is you.
By loving others without relying on them, we put the key to our happiness in our own pocket and we give our relationships the freedom to thrive without conditions.
We learn to enjoy our own company and to treat ourselves with compassion. Even though feeling lonely is inevitable, we learn to be alone without letting it overcome us.
2) Taking your attention off of you and helping someone goes a long way
My grandmother passed away three weeks after I gave birth. I could not travel to her funeral in India so I found myself isolated, dealing with my grief alone. My husband worked long hours and I started to feel the same loneliness that my grandmother felt. I desperately wanted to talk to someone about my deep sense of loss, but I had to keep it together for my newborn child.
Somewhere in the midst of my grief, I befriended an older woman in my neighborhood. She lived alone and few people visited her. She spent many days by herself. I am not sure if my grandmother's spirit was nudging me, but I invited her over to my house every week.
We both relieved each other's loneliness and she was there for me during a difficult time. I realized that taking the attention off of myself and reaching out and helping another person was exactly what I needed.
If you are lonely, reach out and help someone else through their struggle. Be the person that you would want others to be for you. Life has a funny way of giving you back everything you put out into it.
3) Understand that you are never really alone
The next time you feel lonely, step outside. You will find many layers to the human existence. We are literally all connected with the air that we breathe and the ground that we walk on.
If you have ever engaged in mindful meditation, then you understand that within you lies a world of experiences and emotions. You realize that you are more than just your body. You are a soul that came from the same source as everyone else.
If you have ever stood beside the ocean, or marveled at the vastness of the Grand Canyon, then you understand what it means to be in awe. It is this feeling that leads to the realization that there is something much greater that is guiding every step that you take.
Every animal, every human, every living being is part of a rhythm of life and you are here for a reason. You are part of a grand divine rhythm.
I know that wherever my grandmother is now, she has found that she was always loved, always cherished and never alone.
And so it is for you.