The anniversary of my sister’s death had me doing a lot of thinking on grief. We all know grief is one of those non-quantifiable, or objectively analyzed things. It is such a personal experience, and often one that makes no rational sense. This quote relating grief to the ocean is a wonderfully representative statement for something so hard to describe.
Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.
I have experienced a lot of grief in the last couple of years: notably, the loss of a sister, and a dog best friend. There are times when my grief hits me like a brick wall I didn’t know was coming. Sometimes it’s fleeting, and others lasting. One thing that is uniformly the same for me in my experience of grief, is the feeling of loneliness.
Robert E. Neale describes loneliness as “the condition in which something is missing” in his essay Loneliness, Solitude, and Companionship. Then, of course it would make sense that I feel lonely, as I’m grieving something lost. What concerns me is that this missing thing will never return – I can’t bring my sister or Rudy back. So, will I always feel lonely?
I think grief is forever, and something that never really ceases, as I covered a bit in my former blog, Healing. I will never not miss my sister or Rudy. A piece of me left when they did, that I can’t get back. However, I’ve begun to fill the holes of their absence with other things and new perspectives, that have created measurable change in my life. The loss of my sister taught me to walk away from what isn’t serving me. Grieving has greatly reduced my bullshit tolerance level. So yes, something is always missing, but other things are gained.
But I still feel really alone when I grieve. No one else experiences my grief in the way I do, so it is a singular experience. This is true for everyone. There is no set way to grieve. For someone who is still learning to be alone, it is very hard to be alone in my grief.
The circle of those emotionally aware of loss also tends to decrease over time, which increases the feeling of loneliness. For me, I also don’t want to “burden” people with my grief. This is the natural progression of life, and something I was warned about. When I first lost my sister, the circle of sadness extended far and wide to family, friends, friends of friends, and even some acquaintances. I was constantly checked on and supported. Over time, this fades. People move on with life, as they should. Life doesn’t so easily move on for those of us near the center of the circle. Even though I know this is part of human emotion and life’s experience, it does not make me feel less alone. My friends don’t necessarily know when it’s the anniversary of my sisters loss, and how that makes me feel empty. Strangers don’t know to treat me with extra kindness, because today I’ve been hit by a grief wave. Because of the unique way in which we process grief, grief might not always look like grief. As time goes on, I find myself more alone in my grief that seems to exist only for me, and creates feelings I don’t know how to describe.
Loneliness in grief can destroy ones sense of love and belonging. So sometimes, the one thing a person grieving needs to hear is “I’m here, I love you, and you aren’t alone”. I got a couple of messages just like this from a couple friends on the anniversary of my sisters death this week. I didn’t need anyone to fix my sadness – well, because they can’t. I did need to hear that I am loved, and that someone is thinking of me. It is hard not to feel that no one cares, when you are in that deep dark hole of loneliness in grief. These words …just these few words can make the light a little brighter in that hole of loneliness. So, if you ever know someone that is struggling, and you don’t know how to respond…just let that person know you see them and remind them they are loved. Reach out, hug them, hold them, or sit beside them. While I may be the only one experiencing my grief, I don’t have to go it alone. And if you’re afraid to say the wrong thing to your grieving friend or family, I promise you can’t make it worse by simply letting someone know you’re there. There isn’t a right time to do this either, because as I said grief lasts forever. We don’t have to have the answers and solutions to grief – we just simply need to be willing to remind people they are loved and they aren’t alone. We need to learn to be more empathetic and crawl down in the hole with those suffering, rather than watching and waving from above. I think Brene Brown describes empathy best and animated in this short video.
So, if today is hard and you find yourself in that place of loneliness and grief: you aren’t alone. You are loved and I see you.