You never realize how lonely grief is until you’re the one sitting in it. Oddly enough, having friends and family who are grieving the same person you’ve come to know isn’t the antidote to resolving it either. Yearning creeps into your heart and builds a home there. Once it takes residence, the mind thinks to itself “I’m in this by myself now.”

There are four states of being alone in grief: loneliness, aloneness, alienation, and isolation. I won’t have enough time to dive deeply into this within a short Grief Notes. However, if you’re part of our groups, we will discuss this in-depth and how you can face loneliness in supportive ways.

Loneliness: The Craving for Connection

Imagine feeling like you’re standing in the middle of a bustling street, surrounded by a sea of faces, yet a profound sense of emptiness gnaws at your soul. This is loneliness, a yearning for meaningful connections.

When you’re submerged in the depths of grief, it’s easy to be trapped in this desolate space. It makes you ache for someone to listen to your emotional turmoil and understand the whirlwind of feelings living in your heart. 

This loneliness leaves you yearning for a healthy connection, someone with whom you can share your thoughts.

But there’s an even deeper layer to this abyss – existential loneliness. It’s the sensation of drifting into a world without purpose, feeling disconnected from everything and everyone. 

Alienation: The Pain of Being Misunderstood

In grief, the feeling of alienation is all too common. It’s like standing on the outskirts of a group, watching everyone else revel in their happiness, while you feel like an outsider because they don’t “get you.” 

You feel like an afterthought: you’re no longer invited to events or treated as “other than.” Your loss has changed you, and among everyday society or intimate friend groups, you don’t feel a sense of belonging.

Isolation: A Desperate Retreat

Isolation is like building walls around your heart and retreating deep within them. It’s when you intentionally or subconsciously withdraw from the world. When someone is drowning in despair, hopelessness, helplessness, or fear, it’s often because they’ve over-isolated themselves. 

They’ve severed connections and left little room for others to reach them. They’ve become prisoners of their solitude, declining help and no longer asking for support from those who are willing and able to comfort them.

But isolation doesn’t just take an emotional toll. It’s detrimental to your physical health as well. The American Heart Association warns that it increases your risk of heart-related complications and can harm your brain.

The Myth of Self-Isolation

Grievers and trauma survivors tend to argue that self-isolation is healthy because “they don’t do people,” “people are unkind and terrible,” and “I’m better off alone.” These are all myths and, unfortunately, the result of not knowing how to meet healthy people, choose them as friends, and then build healthy connections with them. 

Supportive relationships don’t leave us wanting to isolate ourselves. They encourage us to connect and comfort us.

Aloneness: A Sanctuary for Healing

Now, imagine being alone but not lonely. It’s akin to sitting behind the wheel of your car, taking a solitary swim, playing a soulful tune on your instrument, or dwelling in your own space. This aloneness isn’t about feeling isolated; it’s a nurturing solitude.

The gentle quiet allows you to protect and replenish your mental, emotional, and physical energy. It rejuvenates your spirit after a long, exhausting day or when you’re navigating grief. It’s time well spent and a valuable opportunity for self-care and growth.

So, as you navigate the winding path of loss, remember that these four states are all part of the journey, but you don’t have to be trapped in the darker corners. 

For Support with This

To address loneliness, consider joining a grief support group where you can connect with others who have experienced similar losses. Sharing stories and emotions can help you feel understood and foster meaningful relationships.

(Altogether, there are three distinct forms of loneliness most grievers spiral into badly. We’ll talk about getting out of and avoiding them in Friendships in Grief.)

Seek out the connections that will warm your heart. In this balance, you can find the ability to face the whirlwind of grief.

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