Alone with Grief

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I am feeling a new vulnerability now, three plus weeks since Dave’s death. I have cried harder and longer over the past three days than I did in all of the week before. There is something happening about the time and distance from his death that begins to seep into my reality of being alone.

I was reading Hannah’s Gift last night for my monthly book club selection meeting on Sunday. (OK, I know it’s weird to be thinking and working and even “socializing” over death topics but I meet with professional women bonded by their work and friendships created through grief support. Anyway, many people turn to all sorts of books during grief. I just keep two or three hats on as I read. It is similar to how Dave kept watching all of the forensic and murder mystery TV shows as he lay in bed living and dying) One of the distinctions the author makes after her young daughter dies from a year long fight against cancer is discovering the difference between being alone and loneliness.

“I realized then that alone and loneliness were two different things. Loneliness came from belief that something was missing from my life; that I needed someone or something else in order to be complete.

But this aloneness I now felt was the fullest experience of myself that I had ever known; in it, I knew that I was at once incomplete and whole.” ~Maria Housden, Hannah’s Gift

I recognize that these long days are about my being alone. The emptiness that surrounds me is not only spatial and physical but also emptiness in my heart, emotionally alone, that is not actual loneliness.

My vulnerability is emotional aloneness this week. I am in the public eye once again whether it is through planning details for the memorial, working and learning, or the ordinary tasks of life. This is the mask of grief that arises when we get back to work. I do meet up with others, but I carry the deeper, raw response to loss back home to deal with alone, by myself. This is when I feel incomplete and whole.

I am not lonely. I traveled to California to visit with my mother and step-father, a couple of brothers and extended family. I have met up with folks for meals out, Leah comes over, I have business that keeps me connected to the human voice. I call others on the phone more often now. I talk with the kitties around here. And, I’ve always talked aloud (well not so much since the autophony in my ears) so I am here with myself, too!

But I am alone. The day-to-day memories, the house, and the decisions I make from what to eat to how to develop my business, and what to watch on TV are mine alone now. It feels incomplete.

Until this moment I don’t think I’d given much thought to how really close Dave and I were, perhaps even co-dependent in some aspects after 28 years of marriage. I didn’t take it for granted, I just counted on his presence emotionally and physically. We really could finish each other’s sentences and often knew what came next in our conversations. Rather than being annoying it was comforting, normal. We didn’t have to be right in each other’s face, but took solace in knowing that we were just a few rooms away most of the time. I worked at home and Dave preferred his home office to the college one. Our accessibility to each other meant we were not alone, nor lonely.

I’ve known that the relationship bond (close, estranged, acquaintance) as well as the relationship type (parent, child, partner, friend) are key elements to how deep anyone’s grief runs, and conversely how grief may be seemingly innocuous for others. It is curious how one family member grieves differently and with more or less angst than another even when the loss is the same relation. But I venture further to add in the relationship roles as a part of how being alone arises in my grief.

The caregiver’s grief comes from the emptiness of suddenly not having someone to care for (being needed). The personal grief comes from the emptiness of not having someone to think, converse and banter with. The social grief comes from the loss of physical presence for meals and activities. There intimacy grief comes from not being near to touch and hold. I’m sure there are more to consider.

For every role and contact I’ve had with Dave there is an associated grief and loss. I am whole in my life, my independence, my capability as a human, but I am incomplete in my relationship with Dave now. I am alone with my grief, but not lonely.

5 replies
  1. Connie Fenner
    Connie Fenner says:

    I think I can completely understand the distinction between loneliness and being alone, as you have described. Even though my husband is still with me (43 years) as I watch his long, slow spiral towards death I think so much about what life will be like without him. The everyday, unspoken closeness of a friend and lover, I truly can’t imagine my life without him, yet it will happen. I don’t know if anything anyone says can help, it’s a terrifying future.
    Thanks for talking about your feelings and sharing-it makes me very sad, but aware that this is part of life.

  2. joan
    joan says:

    Hi Connie.
    I am sorry for this difficult journey you and your husband endure right now.
    Being able to envision your life doing what you need to do on your own is the gift to help you later. It won’t change the time when you are alone, but may be a strength for getting you through the rough moments. As you take in the time and words you have now this will be the “whole” of you what might feel “incomplete” later – the alone-ness noted here. At least this is my experience.
    I take great comfort during these times in the things and encouragement Dave would have offered me. They are now the same things I can offer myself. Bringing him consciously into my life without him means I still carry his love and support.That will never go away nor can be taken away. These thoughts keep me whole.
    I wish you the best in a future that is not terrifying but filled with the memories of love and peace that guide you forward. ~Joan

  3. Connie Fenner
    Connie Fenner says:

    Thanks so much for your response. I hope you are able to act on and benefit from your very wonderful thoughts and encouragements. Perhaps putting these thoughts into words on paper or in conversation, does help to make them real and possible.
    Again, thanks for sharing. Connie

    • joan
      joan says:

      Yes indeed, Connie! I wouldn’t be near this place of managing my life if I hadn’t been writing and talking with others throughout Dave’s illness and his death. Grief needs a witness, and the stories must be told and shared. I hope you will tap into a support group even now – for caregivers. Check with your local hospice (even if your husband is not on hospice) or church or the Area Agency on Aging organizations for programs.


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