Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another. To follow, please leave your email address.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Alone or Lonely: Who Do You Love?


After the death of a spouse, especially if there were just the two of us at home, the absence of the other person is keenly felt. Half of our life feels gone. Which it is.

Suddenly there is no one else in the house to talk to, no one to cook for, no one to toss ideas around with for what to do this weekend. Now we have to figure out these things by ourselves.

For many widowers and widows, it’s been a long time since we lived alone. Some of us have never lived alone, going from our parents’ house to college and right into marriage. It feels odd, empty, and wrong.

In time, we will discover what we like to do on our own and set up a new pattern of living. We will find out when we want to be alone, and when we want to be with others. We may discover that we don’t want to get married again, at least for now, because we are finding out things about ourselves and life that we were too busy to notice before.

Recently I read an excerpt by Jeff Foster. The first half was spot on, that aloneness is not the same as loneliness, nor is it despair. Sometimes it’s just a fact of life.

Rilke also says something about this, that in each person there is an aloneness, a solitude that cannot be shared with any other person. We would feel this aloneness whether we live by ourselves or with other people. By living alone, we have the opportunity to get in touch with the solitude inside us.

I love to hike by myself for a week in the wilderness, and this is part of my acceptance of aloneness. I’ve also thought about becoming a monk, but with Thomas Merton’s arrangement, of having a hermitage out in the woods that is near the monastery so that I could come in, be among people, and listen to Gregorian chant now and then. Most of the time I’d be out in the woods listening to the wild spirituality of birds and coyotes, and keeping pace with the changing rhythms of the seasons.

Foster speaks of the “exquisite melancholy” of aloneness. This is “but” living. For those who have grieved, the world may become enjoyable again, BUT it is no longer a place that will ever be completely happy because we will always feel grief for the person we lost. We also know that grief will come to everyone’s life at some point because grief and sorrow are part of life. We know this, even though we wish it were not so.

We also wish that after a period of grief we could return to our happy outlook on life, BUT we know that we will always be aware of how suddenly good things can fall apart, and how quickly people we love can die.

This is our wistful melancholy. We wish for this, BUT we are so aware of that.

Foster also speaks of the heart being broken open. What I understand this to mean is that life is lived best when the heart is open, because then we are aware of the suffering and love and tenderness of other people. By staying single/widowed (choose your term), we have the time and energy to love and care for everyone we meet.

It’s hard to be open when we’ve been battered and bruised by grief, because we want to protect our hearts, and we may not feel strong enough to take on the suffering of others. The layer of protection around us is thin.

We also have a sensitivity, and a word of sorrow or loss is enough to open our hearts to others because we know how crucial it is to have someone listen and understand our pain. Yet there are times when we need to withdraw for a while when the struggles of others become too much.


I am not afraid to be alone. I am learning, breaking apart, reforming, loving, and breaking apart again. To love others, I have to set my own needs aside. To love others well, I first have to love my self.

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