Loneliness is a significant part of the grief journey. No matter what your relationship is to the person who has died then missing them and feeling the loss of their presence is one of the parts of grief that often surfaces throughout the grief journey. Webster’s dictionary defines lonely as “being without company or cut off from others.” When someone has died then we are truly cut off from that person. Webster’s dictionary further defines loneliness as “producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation.”
I became a widow six years ago when my husband died in a freak accident from work. I had been married for 18 years. Suddenly, I was no longer a wife. My husband was gone. We had three children who were at that time ages 16, 14, and 11. Suddenly, I was a single parent. I loved being married. I loved raising my children with their father. Suddenly, I was alone. I think of people who have been married for 50 years and the incredible loss that they feel when their spouse dies. Loneliness is a real part of grief.
Sometimes after people who have been married for many years and their spouse dies, they try to marry quickly. I have been so amazed at how people judge those who have suffered the death of a spouse who choose to marry quickly. I will never understand why someone would feel that they would have the right to judge someone who chooses to marry quickly or date soon after their spouse dies. When someone chooses to date and/or marry after their spouse dies does not indicate the depth of their love for their spouse who has died. It also does not mean that they are being disloyal to their past husband or wife. Sometimes widows or widowers marry or date quickly because they loved the partnership in life and they loved having someone to share with. The loneliness that they are experiencing may be hurting their hearts so much that they wish to start a new life with someone else. That does not mean that they loved or cherished their spouse any less than someone who marries or dates years later or may choose to never date or marry again. Let’s not judge someone else on their timeline of dating and/or marriage. Instead, let’s support those who have suffered the death of a spouse and be happy for them if they are able to find happiness with someone else again.
I remember not long after my husband died, then my son PK who was 16 at the time came to me with some questions. He had such a serious look on his face. He said, “Mom, I am just wondering if you will ever get married again?” I knew my son very well. I knew that whatever I said to him would be remembered for life. LOL. I chose my words very carefully. I said, “PK, you do not need to worry about that right now. I am focused on raising you and your sisters and helping you to work through your grief of losing your dad.” He looked at me with his inquisitive eyes. He was not satisfied with my answer. He said, “Let’s talk about those words ‘right now’. What does that mean? Would you marry again?” I sighed. I was battling as his mother. I did not want my son to even have to think about that at the time. I just wanted to be a good mom to him and to my daughters and to help them with their grief. However, I also knew that I loved being married and sharing my life with someone and that eventually that I hoped that I would be back in that type of relationship. However, I felt no rush to get there and was focused on my children. I was desperately trying to search for the right words in order to remove this topic from his mind, but at the same time, I wanted to give him an honest answer. I said, “PK, maybe some day way off in the future, I will get married again. However, all I am focused on right now is being your mom.” He looked at me with such a puzzled expression and asked, “Mom, why would you ever do that?” I said, “PK, some day, you and your sisters will move out and go to college. You will all probably have families of your own. I may enjoy having someone to do things with again and may not want to be alone for the rest of my life.” PK looked at me with determination and said, “Oh! That’s the problem! Then I will be moving back in!”
I still laugh even though so much time has passed since my son and I had this conversation. I smile as I remember his expressions, thoughts, and resolution! He thought he could fix it! If mom didn’t want to be alone then he would just move back in! If I could insert an audible laugh in to this blog then it would be inserted right here!! My oldest daughter who was at this time 15 was listening to this conversation without PK or I knowing. She came to me later and shared that she had heard the conversation and wanted to tell me something. Kylee shared with me that she just wanted me to know that if I ever did marry again that she would be happy for me and that she did not want me to be alone if I didn’t want to be. My then 12 year old girl was not a part of the conversation, and I am sure that topic would not have ever entered her mind at that time.
Several years later, my youngest daughter brought up the topic. I do not remember what prompted her to bring it up but I do remember the conversation that followed. When she asked me, then I decided to share with her the conversation that I had with her brother and her sister. MiKayla listened intently to the conversation and was definitely smiling during each of her brother’s responses. MiKayla’s personality is most definitely more like her brother. After I finished describing the entire conversation to MiKayla then she smiled and said “I feel like PK!” I just smiled at her. Her response was not surprising to me at all. Through this last year as MiKayla has had a boyfriend of her own, she has now changed her position on what she feels about this topic and has now also given me her blessing as her sister previously did.
Sometimes it is the children of the widow or widower who struggle most if their parent decides to remarry after the other parent dies. If you are in this situation, then please just remember that if your parent does decide to remarry that is not a reflection on the love or loyalty that your parent felt for his or her spouse. This decision most likely reflects that they enjoyed being married and living in a partnership. This new spouse will never replace your parent who has died. I know that this type of change is difficult as you are grieving your parent who has died; however, please try to remember the best that you can that most likely your parent who has died and loved your other parent would want them to live their lives as happy as possible. When you love someone then you wish for them much happiness so please try to keep that in your heart and mind as you process this new change in your family. I am not minimizing it. I truly believe you are grieving the loss of your parent. Please just remember that your other parent is too, but we all grieve differently and make different choices in our grief.
There is such a loneliness that comes to someone who has become a widow or a widower. When you are used to sharing your life with someone and suddenly you are no longer married then you have times where you feel very alone and lonely. When you are suddenly a single parent then you experience many things that are missed that you used to share with your spouse. These longings and past experiences often produce much loneliness. I have and continue to experience these feelings. I believe that these feelings are normal and understandable. I hope that if we have others in our lives that have lost a spouse that we will not judge them if they start to date or marry again. I hope that instead we can be loving and supportive to them and to celebrate whatever brings joy into their lives. I also hope that we will be sensitive and realize that if this does happen in their lives that this does not eliminate their grief or replace the loved one that they have lost. Even if they are remarried then there will be times that they still miss the spouse who has died. This is normal and understandable. This does not lessen their love for their new spouse. This is a reflection of the loss that they feel from the past relationship that they had that they have lost. If we want people to be open and honest with us then we need to be loving, supportive, and not judgmental.
When my only son died at the age of 18 in a car accident four years ago, then I experienced a new type of loneliness. This loneliness and grief could rush upon me at any moment. One example of this is when I have gone to college football games as my daughters and I love to do. I have experienced severe loneliness and grief as I sit in those football stadiums even though I was surrounded by others and sitting in a crowd of people. Reflecting back on one of Webster’s definitions for loneliness was “being cut off from others”. When I was sitting in a football stadium that my son might have been playing in which was one of his dreams, then the loneliness and grief would rush upon me each time. When I go into his bedroom and look at his belongings and feel the deep torturous pain of his death then the loneliness feels like it could consume me. Loneliness is a natural part of grief.
Often in grief, those who are grieving feel so lonely because it does not feel like anyone is capable of understanding the pain and loss that they are suffering. As a widow or widower, you may be surrounded with married couples and feel very alone in your life. As someone who has had a child die, then I know I have felt very alone in my pain. There have been many times where someone has come and said, “I know how you feel.” They may have had a spouse or a child die. However, they didn’t know how I felt as a widow who then had her only son killed 22 months later. I always advise against using those words with someone who is grieving. “I know how you feel” does not bring comfort to someone who feels engulfed in their own grief. I do try to reach out to others who are grieving. I want to be there for them in their pain. However, I know that I don’t know how they feel. I only know how I feel.
Often when someone is deep in grief then it is extremely difficult for them to have the ability to look outside of their own pain and to understand how someone else is feeling. Usually what is most helpful is for someone else to listen to how they are feeling. Grievers often want others to understand the pain of their loss and the grief that they feel over the person’s death who was their loved one. However, we all grieve differently. What is most important is if you are the griever is to find what is most helpful to you. If you are with someone who is grieving then listen to them and try to understand what is most helpful to them. Also, please realize that they may not know what they need or want and even if they do, then that can change from moment to moment.
It is normal to feel loneliness in grief. It is normal to feel alone even when surrounded with others… to feel misunderstood… to hurt and to grieve the loss of your loved one. Please if you are grieving find someone that you can be real with and express your pain to. Please find friends or family that are comfortable letting you be real. Please if you are someone in the life of someone who is grieving then work really hard on letting them be real… on not pushing them to be where you think they need to be or what you think they need to do. Please try to give them a loving, supportive environment that does not include judgment. You will truly make a wonderful difference in the lives of those who are in pain if you are able to give them these gifts.
“When Christ said: ‘I was hungry and you fed me,’ He didn’t mean only the hunger for bread and for food; He also meant the hunger to be loved. Jesus himself experienced this loneliness. He came amongst His own and His own received Him not, and it hurt Him then, and it has kept on hurting Him. The same hunger, the same loneliness, the same having no one to be accepted by and to be loved and wanted by. Every human being in that case resembles Christ in His loneliness; and that is the hardest part, that’s real hunger. ” Mother Teresa
If you are grieving then please give yourself permission to be real in your pain and allow others to journey with you. If you know someone who is hurting and in pain, then please give them the priceless gifts of love, support, and acceptance and walk with them on their journey.