In fact, lonely is not a strong enough word to grasp the depth of aloneness that becomes your life after loss. You are desperately and hopelessly alone regardless of how many people surround you, love you, care about you.
You can be in the center of a room that is filled with family, friends, and acquaintances and yet it still feels as if you are invisible. It’s as if you are floating above your body not participating in life as you knew it before death knocked at your door and left you reeling from its cold, hard grasp.
The loneliness is so extreme that I’ve seen people do anything to avoid it. In fact, I’ve seen myself do anything to avoid it. We run away to corners of the world searching to feel connected and embraced. We numb our pain with artificial substances and distractions to forget how bad we hurt. We surround ourselves with people that might not have been center stage in our lives before our loss but we become so desperate not to feel alone we make exceptions to old rules.
We also hide.
We feel so horrifically lonely that it’s sometimes easier to be alone so that we don’t have to pretend to be something we aren’t. People in our lives don’t understand, and we become exhausted trying to make them see why we hurt so deeply and feel so alone.
I’ve shifted between all possible scenarios in my life after loss, and as a grieving wife and mother. There is no timeline to our actions and no manual we can follow. You just have to ride the wave until calm waters give you quick rest.
I get asked a lot, as a remarried widow, how I found love again. I get asked all the time how to date, who to date and when to date. Sometimes I laugh to myself at the prospect that I’ve got some perceived hidden secret to love after loss. Just like everything else in life, we want a quick fix and an easy path for things that aren’t quick and are anything but easy.
The prospect that when they die, we are no longer complete seems prevalent in our grief-stunted society. Like somehow the person who died completed us, and only with the addition of the person we lost, or another new person, will we ever be complete again. The idea is we can’t be complete alone. Those social constructs have me torn for several reasons.
For starters, my late husband did complete me in a way. He was my best friend, and he made me happy. In our fifteen years together we created a life together, had children and planned our future. He completed that picture of my life, and in many ways, I feel like he made me whole. When he died, I felt lonely, not just for his physical presence in our lives but also lonely for the incomplete picture that was my life after he left. It’s as if someone took a pair of scissors and cut out half of the photo, leaving me unfinished.
After he was gone more than a year, I started to realize that as much as I felt like he had completed me, what he completed was us, and the us that was did not define who I am as an individual, or where I am going. I am a complete and whole being unto myself, and as much as I loved him and I loved us, I could still love ME, and that helped me feel less incomplete. With that realization, the lonely subsided ever-so-slightly and my life took on new meaning. For the first time in my entire life, I realized that the most important person for me to love after my loss...was me. I still missed him, and I still missed us, but I stopped feeling like I could never be complete again without him and I started looking for ways to complete myself.
To find these new ways to feel full as an individual, I realized I had to stop hating my alone time. Instead, I needed to see my alone time as the opportunity to meet myself, listen to myself and love myself. The quiet times are when I could hear the most from deep inside and find out who I was as an individual.
It was in the quiet I realized I wanted to change the world through fitness.
It was in the quiet I realized that I needed nature more than I needed a big house.
It was in the quiet I realized I was a writer at heart.
It was in the quiet I realized I liked all that I had become through my pain.
Through quiet self-reflection, it is possible that you may want to fall in love again after loss. If you do come to this conscious decision, I think that is wonderful (I also think it’s wonderful if you never come to this place) but please don’t fall in love searching for someone to complete you.
Take the time to find out who you are before you paint a new picture with someone else in it. You can’t expect someone else to love who you have become through grief if you haven’t taken the time to love who you have become through the pain. Grief has changed you, shifted you and transformed you into a new being, and while some might see that as a negative, I see it as nothing but beautiful and amazing. Butterflies morph and become more colorful through painful change. Diamonds are formed under immense pressure. Your experiences make you exquisite, and you should not discount the beauty you bring to this world.
So before you run out and look for someone to fill a hole in your world, remember there is no hole to fill. Whatever comes next will be new, different and its own force. People aren’t replaceable, and you don’t require validation from another human to be in love with who you are and all you bring to this world.
Embrace the quiet
Listen to your soul
Explore your passions
Fall in love with yourself
Be bold and brave
Expand your personal growth
Focus on your happiness
After you’ve discovered who you are, and after you’ve fallen in love with all you have become, at that point you may wish to consider if you want to allow another person to be part of your story. It’s after you love yourself that you will find a person who deserves the amazing you that has emerged from the loneliness of grief, and the beauty of your evolved soul.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn’t make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let’s talk about living with loss. If you have a story you’d like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.