Grief letters, volunteer projects, Meetup groups, and more
Freshly alone and learning to like it? It is one of the hardest things a person will ever have to do. While some people are loners and have found ways to enjoy the solo life, there are some of us who can’t enjoy anything without someone to share it with.
For those unfortunate souls, enter the holiday season and prepare to suffer.
For me and the new friends I have collected in the past few months from divorce recovery groups and abuse survivor support meetings, we all have one thing in common. It is our first Christmas alone without our partner in many, many years. And for most of us, our children are grown and have flown far from the nest. We are older and facing the prospect that the husbands who left us behind were the last love of our lives, and we may be consigned to the ‘table for one lifestyle’ for the rest of our days. And who is to say that it is a tragedy. We are taught by mental health experts and wellness gurus that happiness comes from within and we must be independent and complete without the need to look outside ourselves to find satisfaction with life.
Today, I had an epic meltdown that came out of nowhere. Maybe the Christmas music that has invaded every single public place. Perhaps the powerful song at church when she sang, “I was here. I lived. I loved.”
Or maybe it was the realization that I am totally and completely alone except for a spattering of good-hearted folks with whom I have no history and barely know but who try to help in the best ways they know how to do under the circumstances. I never knew there were so many people in this world all around me who are struggling and suffering and trying to survive until I became one of them 6 months ago.
For many, the holidays are a solitary time that brings a sense of sadness, loss, and loneliness that settles deep in the bones. Through death or divorce, many will experience the holidays alone and the numbers are increasing. This sense of isolation and despair is contagion, so what can they do, what can all of us do to remedy the problem?
The solitary individual must be proactive and be the first to attempt to fill the emptiness with something that offers sustenance. For many like myself, the first holiday alone is the most intimidating. Stay busy and active in the world around you if you can, but also allow time to be alone and sit with the grief which is a normal and necessary reaction to loss. If you can’t drive, experiment with ways to get up and out with the assistance of others. There are other things you can do to address loneliness and grief which include:
- Acknowledge your feelings and pain, and do not repress, deny, or deflect.
- Accept that grief can trigger many different and unexpected emotions and loneliness can be the source of many different difficulties.
- Understand that your grieving process will be unique to you and each person reacts differently to feeling isolated or disconnected.
- Seek out face-to-face support from people who care about you. Find a support group that speaks your language and shares common experiences.
- Support yourself emotionally by taking care of yourself physically and spiritually. Know the difference between loneliness and depression.
The friends and families of the widow or divorcee should offer support and reach out to bring them in. There are so many different dynamics involved at the end of relationships, and those around the recently widowed or divorced must respect those differences and the feelings that follow. The best way to support them is simply to be present, give the gift of time, and listen with compassion and not judgment or a “must fix now” attitude.
It is also important to remember that not all single individuals have friends or family to turn to. In an ever-increasing mobile society, people are scattered about much more frequently than in days gone by. Somehow Skyping, Facetime, or What’s App video calls are no real replacement for face to face interaction. You can’t snuggle close with a book or roast a marshmallow with a computer screen.
The community is also responsible for establishing a climate of inclusivity. There are many types of communities outside the friend and family paradigm. It could be a church community, a school community, or a neighborhood community. It is a group of people who can have the mindset that there are no borders or fences that separate members of the community, so a consequence would be increased participation in one another’s lives. What would this look like?
Neighbors are increasingly disconnected due to technology and other logistics. Once there was an integration of all people in a village who were close-knit and caretaking with one another. Those days have disappeared for the most part in our Me First culture where everyone is connected with phones and earbuds that put them in a bubble.
Tiny efforts could be the first step. Get to know neighbors. Take them a box of cookies and exchange contact info. Text with an invite for tea or a beer once a month. And during holidays, send invites to all solo folks and follow up with a face to face. When you get in the car to go to see the lights or attend a church potluck, encourage your solitary neighbors to come along. Be inclusive and aware of those who need that inclusivity.
There are other types of communities like schools or churches, and they can do many things to incorporate others through outreach and service projects. My dance students did a “Grand-buddy Project” years ago where we went to nursing homes and performed some excerpts from the Nutcracker, sang a few carols, passed out candy canes, and held a few trembling hands. Time is the greatest gift. Crafts and cards are not things that build a human connection.If you are alone this holiday season and worried about getting through it unscathed and intact, volunteer and help alleviate loneliness on both sides. Connect with people, and if they do not reach out to you, it’s okay to make the first overture. Call up folks to chat, and if nobody is available, call a crisis hotline. You can’t let the painful silence create a crisis. Be aggressive about self-care and protecting your energy. Allow quiet time to sit with your sadness, but limit the melancholy to no more than an hour a day. Be present in the moment, practice mindfulness, pray, and read material to boost your spirits and strengthen you from the inside out.
Holidays are a tough time to be alone. And even tougher when attempting to heal a broken heart. We may never get back what we lost, but there are new things waiting if we can just sip a little hot eggnog, nibble a Christmas cookie, and muster enough faith in the future to be grateful for the opportunity to live another day.