Loneliness: How Can It Help Me?

One of the toughest changes to navigate in life is the death of a spouse. This change is usually not one that is planned for, welcomed, or many times even anticipated. It makes its appearance either suddenly or gradually, steals our loved one from us, then leaves us to deal with the realities of grieving, loneliness, memories, making decisions alone and all the other adjustments that come as a result of living life without our partner. A common saying is that a married person is only one heartbeat away from singleness.

womancryingLoneliness is a frequent and sometimes ongoing emotion someone who has lost his/her spouse will feel and must learn to adjust to. It is a common reality, yet a difficult thing to accept. Martha Felber, in her book, Finding Your Way After Your Spouse Dies, reports that friends would ask her, "What hurts the most?" She said her answer was always the same, "Loneliness for my loved one."[1] Death leaves a hole that no one else can fill. You feel cut off from and abandoned by your loved one. Loneliness, though it can be extremely difficult, is not all bad. Several things can be learned from loneliness:

  • I will experience loneliness as a newly single person.
  • It is normal to feel lonely.
  • I will not die of loneliness (although it may feel like it sometimes).
  • Substitutions will not dissolve my loneliness.
  • I will grow through the experience.[2]

Dealing with Loneliness

Here are some suggestions to help deal with the reality of loneliness. These are not meant to be the total answer. Rather, they are offered as practical recommendations to manage the lonely feelings and help turn those feelings into positive, constructive personal outcomes.

  1. Accept your loneliness: Most of the time we want to run from feelings that are difficult. The challenge is to understand and accept that loneliness will teach us more about who we are and who we are becoming. We can learn from this uncomfortable invader.
  2. Run to God: He understands loneliness: It is helpful to remember that God the Father and Jesus the Son both experienced loneliness while Jesus was on the earth for thirty-three years. Talk to Him and learn to listen for His comforting voice in Scripture, music, sermons, the care of a friend, etc.
  3. Look for and spend time with friends: It is okay to admit that we need friends, especially during times of loneliness. Be open and honest with them about the difficulty. One of God's most prized gifts to us is a good friend.
  4. Recall the good times: Intentionally remember and make a list of the pleasant memories you shared with your spouse. What first attracted you to each other? What qualities did you discover later? What was your favorite time of the day? What were your favorite foods, places to go, etc.? Recall family times, vacations, holidays, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, special occasions, etc. Yes, these can be difficult memories; however, the joy from these will also bring comfort and pleasure.
  5. Explore your interests: Make time to explore the things that excite and interest you. What do you like to do? What TV programs and movies do you like to watch? What would you like to learn about?
  6. Find a place to belong: If you do not attend a healthy church that accepts, affirms, and genuinely cares for people, look for one that will as well as teach you the principles of God's Word that will enrich your life and spirit. Some churches have support groups that may be beneficial.
  7. Get moving: Regular physical activity can help you feel better about yourself and your situation. Exercise usually raises one's self esteem. Walking, yard work, even playing outside with children are simple ways to begin increasing your activity level.
  8. Set some goals: Determine objectives for yourself that will improve your life. What books would you like to read? Where would you like to visit? What things would you like to do with friends? What abilities would you like to strengthen? What things would you like to buy? Consider the physical, financial, mental, social, and spiritual areas of your life in setting your goals.
  9. Keep a journal of your thoughts: Writing your thoughts on a regular basis can prove to be a comfort when looking back upon them later. Consider the positive things you experience and the lessons you learn. "A journal is not only a record of events that touch and transform us; it is a private space in which we can meet ourselves in relation to others and God." [3]
  10. Trust your loved one to God's keeping: God knows your loved one. He is acquainted with your spouse's life. One author said, "If the compassionate power of God could bring about the existence of the world in the beginning, and if the living God . . . is unshakably faithful, then that same compassionate power can be trusted not to let persons perish into oblivion but to engage in an act of new creation at the end. In this perspective, faith in the creating God gave rise to the conviction that the Creator Spirit keeps faith with the beloved creature even in death."[4]

As difficult as it may sound, loneliness can actually help us if we choose to let it. The fact that loneliness will come to each life is a reality. The prolonged sadness and depression that can occur, however, does not have to be!

Recommended Reading

Felber, Martha. Finding Your Way After Your Spouse Dies. Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 2000.

Smith, Harold Ivan and Steven L. Jeffers. ABC's of Healthy Grieving: Light for a Dark Journey.

Shawnee Mission, Kans: Shawnee Mission Medical Foundation, 2001.

Smith, Harold Ivan. A Decembered Grief. Kansas City, Kans: Beacon Hill Press, 2001.

[1] Marta Felber, Finding Your Way After Your Spouse Dies (Notre Dame, Ind.: Ave Maria Press, 2000) 70.

[2] Jim Smoke, Suddenly Single (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell Co, 1982) 41.

[3] Susan Annette Muto, Pathways of Spiritual Living, as quoted by Harold Ivan Smith, A Decembered Grief, (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press, 1999) 62.

[4] Elizabeth A. Johnson, Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints, as quoted by Harold Ivan Smith, ABC's of Healthy Grieving, (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press, 1999) 63.

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