Loneliness and Grief Following the Death of a Spouse

We are never prepared for the loneliness and grief following the death of a spouse. Even if we talked to our spouse who may have had a lingering illness about being alone after they pass, it still remains something you are never prepared for.

Difference Between Being Alone and Loneliness

I have been living alone now for more than ten years since the passing of my husband and much of that time I am fine being alone meaning not being with another individual or a pet. I actually had a cat most of the time, she died two years ago so I am alone. You can be happy alone and for the most part I am happy.  I work, have hobbies and a great social network of friends and family.

However, I admit at times I do feel lonely, which is defined as a feeling of sadness stemming from isolation. I feel lonely during holiday times and other occasions that leave me feeling left out.

Living in a Coupled World

We live in a coupled world, and no one who has lived as a couple with any degree of satisfaction can properly project the stark reality of living a noncoupled life. We are often unprepared for the shock of walking into the empty house, the silence the social differences and the loneliness.

The first time you get back into socializing with friends someone will comment how great you look and because a certain length of time has gone by, no one mentions your late spouses name.  

At that moment you are thinking “how can I get out of here?” because they are all more uncomfortable than I am.  There is almost this deafening silence about what is not said and you feel alone in a crowd of friends.  You may also end up feeling like the “odd man out” so to speak, tagging along with the other couples.  In most cases your friends don’t make you feel this, but somehow you feel it anyway.

In time you will learn to avoid situations that make you feel sad and unprepared to deal with the other couples. 

In time, it becomes easier to maintain relationships with the couples you are close with. It is up to you to make it clear to your coupled friends that you want to be included and that you are happy to reciprocate with at-home dinners, restaurant arrangements, or other social functions you were accustomed to doing.  Socializing again will keep the loneliness at bay.

How to Deal With Feelings of Being Left Out of a World Filled With Couples

Obviously, your social life will be different now that you are single; the ways in which you entertained and socialized changed drastically.  Without question you will forgo, miss and yearn for many of the things you used to do.  You will at times feel like the third wheel, you might even have a tendency to isolate yourself because you don’t want to go somewhere alone.

The worst part is that you may get the feeling other spouses don’t want you around their spouse alone. Yes that does happen and you feel it in the pit of your stomach.  Let it go. 

  • Death is uncomfortable for the living and often friends feel vulnerable when someone close dies. They don’t know what to say or do and so they avoid.
  • Know that your friends are probably doing the best they can just like you. They surely still care about you, but they too are grieving the death of your spouse.
  • Often widows say, “I know who my friends turned out to be”  but remember married friends may have a hard time relating to you as a single when they knew you as a couple.
  • The best way to respond if you feel like your relationships are rocky is to be proactive and honest.  Even though you are grieving, you may need to put your feelings aside and pick up the phone and keep in touch.
  • Also if you haven’t heard from a friend in while, pick up the phone and call them because often people can’t make the first move because they don’t know what to say, but they will welcome your call that has reopened the door.

Loneliness Can Affect Your Health

Most of us don’t understand that loneliness can have a physical component. According to Dr. Vivek Murthy, the 19th U.S. Surgeon General and author of the book “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.

“When most people think about loneliness they think about feelings, but they don’t recognize it is exceedingly common. But because of the stigma associated with loneliness, there are people who struggle who don’t talk about it and have trouble admitting to themselves that they’re lonely.”

Murthy came to see that it has consequences that go beyond just feeling bad. It is associated with a reduction in lifespan and a higher risk of heart disease, dementia, and depression and anxiety. It also has a profound effect on our health and affects how we show up in the workplace, school, and our communities.

The lesson here is to protect your health!  Take self-care seriously, reach out to a professional if you need more help than you are getting from family or friends, reach out if you feel depressed and finally be honest with friends and tell someone you trust that you are experiencing loneliness and ask them to help. Being vulnerable is not a sign of weakness, grief is something every human being will experience in their life, so you are not alone.

Be Aware of What You Can Control in Your Grief

Your mind often wants to go down the rabbit hole of thoughts that you simply have no control over.
Accept what you can control and learn to let go of the things you can’t. 

If you think you can’t control your thoughts, you actually can – that is a choice.
If you can get out of your own head and focus on something that is joyful, you can change your mood and what you are feeling in the moment.

Mind what language you use talking to yourself – if you can’t show up for yourself, you can’t show up for others!  If you have children, they count on you to guide them in a positive way.

Conclusion

Have you ever heard whatever you focus on expands or grows?

Fear and hope work the same way.  Take the power you are giving to fear & loneliness and give it over to hope.  Perhaps you need to put a sticky note on your mirror or refrigerator to remind you to have hope.  Because when you have hope, everything is possible.

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