The Summertime Challenge of Grief:
Lonely, Alone and Solitude
By Janice Olive MHDL, LPC
Summer is time for fun and vacation, time away from jobs and ordinary tasks of life. The beach calls or the mountains come to mind, a cool retreat from work. Yet this year may be different for many who are grieving the death of a loved one. Family vacation is often meet- up time for getting together with Mom and Dad or taking time off and spending it with your spouse and the kids. But what happens when the summer vacation time arrives and you find yourself alone for the first time? If not completely alone, you may still have the lonely feeling of loss.
One of the most common grief reactions is feeling lonely. Someone with whom you have shared your happy, sad, and just-the-ordinary moments dies and you may feel lonely, no matter how many others are around you. Lonesome, as you watch neighbors pack the car for vacation or when you receive the “wish you were here” cards from the places you used to enjoy. It is a feeling we don’t often talk about but just can’t shake after a death.
Marta Felber, a psychologist who is well acquainted with her own experience of grief, often writes about loneliness. She advocates recognizing it and expressing it, on paper or aloud, physically and with tears. When feelings become blocked, she does something to reach them, like reading cards or letters her loved ones sent and thinking about the ways she misses them. You can find and hold something special that belonged to your loved one. Feelings are not to be avoided.
Can alone times be enriched? Can it become solitude? Creating an alone place in your home may become a part of self-care that will be rewarding for you. Keep it simple, uncluttered, and comfortable. Take a regular break to go there for prayer or meditation, reading poems or whatever inspires you. You might try creating a mantra that resonates with you like “grant me peace”, “I shall survive”, or “we shall overcome.” Say it several times to yourself. You might also try talking to your loved one or writing a letter to them. Or you may try writing a conversation in which you talk to your spouse and then write his or her answers.
There may be a season, day of the week, or time of day that is most lonely for you. Prepare for it by listing things you can do: ask a friend to go to church with you, call someone just to talk, visit a local park, check for local baseball games you can attend. Just getting outdoors can help to fill in those spaces in our lives when we are alone. Try doing something on your own and make it special by dressing up, fixing a nice meal, and sitting at the table instead of eating in front of the TV. If a friend or family member can’t attend an event with you, try it on your own.
A woman whose spouse died found it easier to drive to her hometown for a summer vacation because she knew she would be met there by old friends and family. Driving alone was a challenge but simply putting her husband’s hat on the seat of the car next to her gave her enough feeling of connection to make it tolerable. She planned a route that would give her breaks to get out, walk, stretch and enjoy the scenery along the way. She was determined not to miss out on her summer vacation. You too may find that the anticipation is more difficult than the actual event. You too may want the old familiar feeling of joy.
Trust the process of grief; take time to be with all your feelings. Notice the difference between alone and lonely. Find your ways of creating a pleasant solitude during the days ahead.