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.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Alone or Lonely?

After the death of a spouse, the absence of the other person is keenly felt. Half of the life we knew and cherished feels gone. And it probably is.

Suddenly there is no one else in the house to talk to, cook for, or clean up after. No one to toss around ideas with for what to do this weekend. No one to cuddle in bed after a long, exhausting day, falling asleep in the arms of someone who unconditionally loved us.

For many widowers and widows, it’s been a long time since we lived alone. We aren’t used to being by ourselves for long periods of time, and may feel that we need a relationship to be whole. Being alone feels odd, empty, and wrong.

Listen to me. We are complete in ourselves. Unique and filled with wonder.

As time goes on, we discover who we are as a single person and what we like to do on our own. We set up new patterns of living. We learn when we want to be alone, and when we would really like the company of others. We may discover that we don’t want to remarry right away because we are discovering things about ourselves that we were too busy to notice before.

Aloneness is not the same as loneliness, nor is it despair. Sometimes it’s just a fact of life.

R.M. Rilke talks about the solitude in each person that cannot be shared with anyone, and that we would feel this aloneness even if someone else was around. By living alone, we have the opportunity to make friends with our solitude. This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s easy to do.

I learned to love hiking by myself in the wilderness of Yosemite, but only after I faced my fear of doing so. Hiking over mountains and through forests, I learned to hear the wild spirituality of birds and coyotes, and let the cadence of my heart shift with the rhythms of the different seasons. Solitude became a hiking companion, and we talked during the long hours on the trail.

Grief pushes us to the side of everyday life and we feel abandoned.

Jeff Foster speaks of the “exquisite melancholy” of aloneness. I felt this on the trail. Sometimes we love being alone, and at other times we hate it, wistfully wishing for something else. For those who are grieving, the world may become enjoyable again, but it will no longer be the place that we remember, and we will always grieve the person we lost.

We also wish that we could fall in love with someone new, but we will always be aware of how unexpectedly people we love can die.

When we’ve been pummeled and battered by death, we want to protect our hearts and may not feel strong enough to take on the struggles of someone else, yet we also love having someone around to talk to.

Because of grief, my empathy has deepened to compassion.

I’m not afraid to be alone. I like myself, for the most part. I have a few quirks. Because of grief, I’ve become friends with others who have been broken by death, and my heart opens to them with love and compassion because they are now family.


Your presence and encouragement bring me hope, especially on the days when life seems ponderous and pointless. Then you write to see how I’m doing, and I lean on your strength for a time. For you, my gratitude runs deep.

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