The sense of missing someone you love comes with this overwhelming awareness of all you have lost. Loneliness in grief is not by choice. The cure for loneliness is solitude. If this is true, what is solitude and how can you transform isolation to solitude? I’d have given anything to be together with my loved one again. I wish we could see each other again if only for a brief period, to relieve the loneliness and be reassured that my loved one is still part of my life.
The death of a loved one can lead to loneliness. I have concluded that this type of loneliness is simply “having something you don’t want and wanting something you can no longer have.”
Over time, I realised that my loneliness morphed into solitude. I realised what I also wanted was to be by myself, get away from people and temporarily escape the pressures and decisions of everyday life.
I noticed that there is absolutely no harm in turning inward – reflecting on my loss, and getting in touch with my deepest feelings is a normal response that I should not fear.
At first, this erratic pendulum of motion confused me between loneliness and solitude. I searched to find out if this swing is normal and how others have dealt with theirs. In this post, I will share my experience and some information that are helpful in navigating isolation and solitude.
Looking back now, I understand why I was uncomfortable being with people and why I wanted to be alone most of the time.
Loneliness in grief is not something you choose. In mourning, loneliness is a state of absence that leaves a sense of missing something. Isolation and estrangement are the symptoms of loneliness.
The sudden death of my wife Chidinma thrust me into loneliness. My self-esteem was at its lowest level, and I felt excluded, like a failure, unwanted and unimportant. Loneliness still plagued me even when loved ones surrounded me. It brought back memories of unhappier times when I felt unloved.
After Chidinma died, I lived in two separate worlds. The external world was so quiet, the silence was deafening, and the vicious war of endless chatters and conflicting emotions raged my inner world. It felt like I was blowing hot and cold by the minute.
I had never been shy about asking tough questions. I had several questions about the death of my loved one, which were themed around what happened? So what now? Now, what or what’s next?
It felt like each answer to particular questions opened doors for more questions. My questions ranged from God’s sovereignty to who should be held accountable to uncertainty about the future, social impact, etc.
A question that had stewed on my mind in the last three months was, “Tolu, why did you spend a lot of time alone?”
Recently, I discovered reasons I spent a significant amount of time alone. One of the plausible reasons I spent time alone was because I was afraid of pushing my support network of family and friends away. I was blowing from hot to cold by the minute!
There were times I wanted to scream, “please shut up!” because one minute, I am highly irritated by any sound. Another minute, I felt like smashing everything within my grasp. The next minute, I wanted everyone to leave the house and never return. Another minute I wanted them around to hear the stories they shared.
I also knew that Chidinma’s death shocked my entire network of friends and family because we had never dealt with such. I had an endless flow of torrential questions, like a persistent toddler who was bent on having more sweets.
I knew my questions would frustrate the daylight out of them, and I would be unsatisfied with their responses.
How do I know their response would frustrate me? Because I was frustrated with mine! I felt like someone on a shopping trip who didn’t know what they wanted but hope to find it when they see it.
Losing my loved one had shattered my life into many pieces; like when a glass cup slips from your hand and hits the floor. I was still desperately trying to find and pick up the fragmented pieces of my life.
How do you turn loneliness into solitude?
My earlier posts give you the front-row seat to the raw conflicting emotions of grief and internal chatters of the early phase of my grief journey. Turning loneliness into solitude is possible, but isn’t easy.
Day times were long and lonely. Night times were ferocious. I had grief insomnia for nine months; I celebrated when I had four hours of sleep. It meant that I was awake for 20 hours daily, consumed with the thoughts surrounding the death of my loved one.
At first, I thought I was alone, and no one else had been through this journey before. I wanted someone to share their roadmap, like a tour guide who could help me navigate this dreaded grief journey.
I wanted to find someone who could relate to my journey and share some challenges and how they overcame them. I wanted someone who could provide answers to my questions.
Christians will often suggest that one should pray in these circumstances, but I was upset with God. I didn’t want a spiritual encounter because what I was experiencing was deeply holistic. I wanted someone to share their physical struggles.
Did I pray about this? The long and short is that I often muttered a one-liner, “Holy Spirit, please help”, and that was it. I am grateful for those who have been praying for us. I am sure that their prayers have helped and are still helping.
I am grateful for those who were brave and dared to share their grief journey vulnerably.
I am grateful for technology. It played and continues to play a significant role in transforming my isolation into solitude by making the information available when needed.
I remember the first night when I discovered a blog someone had written about their grief journey. It felt like I had struck gold. It felt like I had won the lottery when I read about the struggles and challenges the writer experienced.
I sat up from the floor, which had become my bed. I clenched my right fist and threw it back towards my body as the triumphant victory fist followed with a deep sigh as I whispered an affirmative yes! Like yes! Finally, someone who understands what I am feeling.
That night, I read 44 posts written on that blog. By daybreak, I had thoroughly read all the posts from three different bloggers about their grief journey.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that I had begun to transform my loneliness into solitude. Most times when I went into the dark den of my room, this became moments where I connected with other people whom I may never meet but have meticulously shared their trials with me either through blogs, podcasts, videos or books.
Soon, I intend to share my library of physical and digital resources that I found helpful, along with the various phases I have encountered on this grief journey.
If you have been following my blog, you will have observed that going for long walks has played an essential role in my journey. Let me give you an insight into why this is the case for me.
I have understood why I enjoy long walks in the woods. How long is my walk? Minimum of 2hrs! My record has been 5 hours, and I am looking forward to an eight-hour walk soon!
I could almost see you scratching your head, puzzled and wondering, “Tolu, but why?”
The change of scenery through the woods. The varied shades of green leaves. The minty refreshing smell of leaves. The rustling of trees as they dance to the tune of the wind. The birds’ sweet chirping and sometimes awful crows’ caws do something unconscious to the soul.
Walking through different farms, seeing how the crops the farmer had planted are at various stages. From the soil being prepared to the tiny shoots to the crops being ready for harvest are scenes I find magnificent. I can go on and on about the different terrains too.
I find these walks to hush the many chatters of my mind and bring tranquillity to the soul. The endorphins work wonders. I have been thinking about organising a full day walk one of these days. Let me know if you’re interested.
I had found ways to be alone, to turn my loneliness into solitude. The physical and digital grief resources were helpful at night. I would tell myself about the walk for the next day, which gave me something to look forward to.
I began to learn to be kind to myself by having a conversation with myself amid conflicting emotions. I would say things like, “Tolu, don’t worry. We will go for a walk tomorrow afternoon, and you can tell me all about it. You can scream as loud as you want, and you can also throw as many stones as you want to throw too.”
I found this anticipation helpful. It gave me momentary relief, like when a persistent toddler has been given ice cream on a hot summer afternoon. It turned out that there was someone in me who I could turn to for friendship. I had found someone who was in my corner most of the time.
This new sense of perspective eased the relenting aches in my soul, like a cold drink quenching your thirst.
As you can now see that in most cases, I have been able to transform loneliness into solitude, a state in which one is alone without feeling lonely. Solitude helps me learn more about grief and digest the information.
Because of my solitude, I can organise and share my honest journey through grief with you. In solitude, I am learning to pick the remaining shattered pieces of my life.
As I round up on this series of loneliness, isolation, and solitude, I feel it’s important to share their differences briefly. They are often used interchangeably, but they have different meanings.
- Solitude is the state of being alone.
- Isolation is a lack of social relationships or emotional support.
- Loneliness is a desire for social contact. We often associate grief and emptiness with it.
There has been a distinction made between solitude and isolation. We can describe these two worlds as representing respectively the joy and the pain of being away from one’s loved ones.
“Language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude” to express the glory of being alone.”–Paul Tillich,
I feel it’s essential you know I am not sharing my thoughts with you as an expert who has overcome loneliness. In fact, loneliness and solitude dance ‘reggae and blues in my journey.’ The rate of change between loneliness and solitude has decreased compared to the earlier months of my grief journey.
The only person who can truly understand your loss is you; nobody else knew your loved one in the same way you did, and no one knew them in the exact way you did.
The second closest group of people on earth who also truly feel and understand what you’re going through are those who have lost their loved ones and are on the same journey as you. Therefore, I offer you a hand of invitation to join our upcoming peer-to-peer bereavement support group.
I’d love to share your coping with grief story too.
I intend to expand the blog and resources on the website to include stories of other people who have lost a loved one, not limited to losing a spouse. I’d love to hear about how you handled grief. Would you please let me know if you would like to share your story.
I am also open to having anyone anonymised if that’s your preferred option. Complete the contact us form with the text “I would like to share my story.”
To Be Continued Next Wednesday…
I would like to hear from you. Would you please share your thoughts, comments and reflections below? Thank you.