Loneliness Following Bereavement: What to Expect
The experience of loss
At some point during our lifetime, most of us are likely to experience the loss of someone we love. Losing a partner can bring fears for our future and how we might cope on our own. Feeling anxious can provoke a truly isolating loneliness as we try to come to terms with our new life situation.
Knowing your loved one is gone forever
Loneliness is different from person to person and everyone will deal with it in their own way. Loneliness brought about by the loss of a partner will be particularly hard to bear, and knowing they are gone forever will make recovery that much more difficult.
Transitioning to being single again takes time and the understanding and patience of friends. Being surrounded by those with partners could make the situation harder to accept. Those who are also widowed are likely to be the ones you turn to for reassurance in the early days.
It’s not until you actually experience the loss of a partner, that you understand the true meaning of widowhood and the feeling of isolation that can come with it. You may find yourself in a room full of people, yet feel totally alone. Without your partner to share your social experience you could feel lost and awkward. This is understandable, but those who know you will only respect your courage for being there and for putting on a brave face in an otherwise difficult situation. Getting used to being single again will give you the opportunity to show the world that you are strong and resilient and that their support is helping you in the process.
In the early days it is almost certain that there will be a ‘down time’. This is the difficult moment at the end of the day, when you close the door and anticipate the evening ahead without your partner. The knowledge that he or she will not be sitting opposite, sharing a meal with you, can make life seem emptier still. Do your best to have a distraction ready at these times. Invite a friend round to share a glass of wine, etc. Letting go of your sadness with someone who understands what you’re going through, is just what you need right now. A few tears may well lead to some laughter as well.
The hardest moment is probably when you go to bed and there is no one to snuggle up to. Staring into the shadows and listening to the familiar sounds of a house breathing in tune to boilers, cisterns and noises outside can be unsettling. Should this be the case, consider listening to some calming music that will block out any unwanted sound, hopefully, helping you to relax in the process.
Recalling conversations held with your late partner when they were alive, will have you wondering if you should have said more or less. Did they know how much you loved them, or how proud you were of their achievements? The chances are that every look and every smile you gave them will have told them all they needed to know.
Unless they are very young, it may be that you can share your thoughts with children living at home. They too may be glad to share their feelings on missing their mother or father. Very young children may also benefit from telling you how they are feeling. Their loss could be manifesting in different ways. They may be more naughty than usual or fussy with their food – finding ways to draw attention to themselves in order to demonstrate their anger or frustration. From personal experience I can only suggest the promise of a holiday – a time away from the family home. If not then, at a later date. Letting my children help plan this family treat offered a great deal in terms of reassurance that life is not only about sadness and loss.
Getting out and about
You may not feel like getting out of the house, but sometimes there is a necessity. Shopping can be hugely difficult. All around will be reminders of your partner’s preferences: be it food, books or clothing.
Every travel agent’s window will have a picture of somewhere you visited together or were planning to visit. Certain places will ignite recall of a conversation shared, or an experience that brought the two of you closer. Reminders seem to be on every street corner. This is the time to remind yourself of how fortunate you were to have had the relationship with your partner and to have these treasured memories.
At first it will seem as though you will never be happy again, but it is OK to grieve and feel introspective about the past.
It is good to face your fears. This is the best way to overcome them and will help you to take a more practical view of how you can restore your spirits.
Very often, following a loss, friends and family can potentially tiptoe around the subject, which will do little to help you come to terms with your new life situation. However, if possible try talking about your late partner in a positive way. This could bring about an epiphany, enabling you to better face your fears and to rationalize your situation.
The importance of looking after yourself
Not to be over-looked, is the importance of looking after yourself. Sleep can sometimes be difficult and it is perfectly OK at this time to ask your doctor or pharmacist for a mild sedative to help you sleep. You may not feel much like eating, but keeping your strength up is important.
If you have a young family to feed, sitting down together for a meal provides an opportunity to see how everyone is getting on. Whilst you will want to be strong for them and appear to be coping well, it is important they understand that it is OK to cry sometimes and to share sadness.
Acknowledging the emotional traumas following bereavement is better than pushing them to one side. Talking to a good friend or family member could help you to come to terms with your loss.
Seeking out photos of you together with your partner will remind you of how lucky you were to have had each other. Your current loneliness is because you had the good fortune to have shared a life together.
Try very hard to look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself what your partner would want you to do now. If this difficult time has come when there are festivities or anniversaries in sight, you should do your best to get involved. For me, spending time with close friends my partner and I had enjoyed being with as a couple was a positive step. They wanted to support me at this time and were glad to remember the good times shared together.
If you would prefer to spend time alone, then this is also OK. However, a temporary distraction could help you to forget your sadness, if only for a while, and show you there can be light at the end of the tunnel.
The determination to find your way back to a semblance of normality will be hard, but time is a great healer and how you use time will be your pathway to grief recovery. As a gradual acceptance of your situation becomes the norm, learning to live with your loss will help you to find happiness again, both within yourself and with others.