Following the loss of a loved one, many people find that friends and family rally round, check-in on them to find out how they’re doing and offer all kinds of support; from home-cooked meals to help with making funeral plans.
But not everyone has close friends and family that can support them after a loss. Even those who do may still feel lonely, isolated and helpless. Sometimes, the emotional turmoil of grief and the stress of dealing with all the practical aspects of losing a loved one can exacerbate loneliness, particularly if the person you would usually turn to during difficult times is the person you have lost. For some, the effects of loneliness come later, when the busyness of arranging a funeral is over and the sympathy cards have stopped arriving.
All of these feelings are perfectly normal and understandable, but grief and bereavement do not have to be a lonely experience. Time spent alone to reflect and grieve is an important part of the process and only you will know when the time is right for you to spend time with others because everyone copes with the emotional impact of losing a loved one in different ways. However, if time spent alone develops into feelings of loneliness, or you feel lonely even when in the company of others, it’s time to consider strategies that can help you cope and sources of help and support.
Reasons for Loneliness
Feelings of loneliness following the loss of a loved one are perfectly normal. You may feel that no-one else understands the full impact of your loss and that you can’t articulate your feelings. You may feel resentment that life is carrying on as normal for everyone else or that they don’t feel the loss of your loved one as deeply as you do. You may simply miss your loved one acutely and feel that no experience is the same without them. All of these emotions are perfectly natural, but you don’t have to let them set you on a path to loneliness and you certainly don’t have to deal with them alone.
It’s not unusual for people who are grieving to isolate themselves and avoid social contact. It can be hard to cope with normal social interactions when we’re feeling upset and anxious and many people lose their usual enthusiasm for everyday activities and social contact when they’re grieving. Once this self-isolation begins, it’s often hard to break free from the habit and withdrawing from friends and family can lead to loneliness.
Alternatively, loneliness can happen as a direct result of your loss. Perhaps your loved one was the person you spent most of your time with, or maybe your social circle has reduced as a consequence of your loss.
Whatever the factors contributing to loneliness following the loss of a loved one, it does not have to be a long-term condition that you simply adjust to. Whether it’s reaching out to people you already know, forging new connections or simply keeping busy, it is possible to overcome your loneliness.
Taking Steps to Overcome Loneliness
Loneliness can be difficult to admit to or discuss with friends and family but letting people know how you feel so that they can support you at this difficult time is an important first step in tackling feelings of isolation. Often, those around you are unsure how to respond to grief so they may think that you need ‘space’, or step back because they don’t want to intrude. These attempts to show sensitivity can exacerbate the feeling of loneliness or perceptions that no-one is there for you. By telling people that you feel lonely, you will allow them to offer help, which could be something as simple as taking you shopping, popping round to watch TV or phoning for a chat every few days. You may be surprised by the responses you experience just by opening up about loneliness and often your candour will result in others confiding you about the times they have felt lonely too.
A common source of loneliness for many is feeling isolated from a group of couples following the loss of a spouse. Often, it’s the times when you’re alone and your friends still come in pairs that you miss your partner the most and feel more detached from your friends. This can be challenging but remind yourself that the other couples in your group have lost a friend too and will not want to lose both of you. As challenging as it can be to return to things you did as a couple on your own, it will help you feel less lonely and more connected to precious memories of times together.
When your mood is low, it can be hard to take the initiative but organising social interactions can be one of the best ways to overcome loneliness. If you don’t feel like going out, why not invite people round? Pot luck suppers are a great way to bring everyone together and involve minimal effort as everyone brings a dish to share.
If you’re not ready yet to spend time with others, think about what else you can do to fill your time productively and give you a sense of achievement and satisfaction. Re-decorating or embarking on a craft project can help to keep you busy. Alternatively, you may prefer to do some of the things you’ve always enjoyed, such as baking or tinkering under the bonnet of your car. The important factor is to feel a sense of purpose and build on your confidence. On difficult days, this could be as simple as trying some meditation or mindfulness to help you focus on your mental health and take time for self-care; there are lots of videos available on YouTube, free mindfulness apps and podcasts on Spotify.
Getting out There
There are lots of ways to get out there and enjoy activities with others, perhaps building on a hobby you already enjoy or trying something new. Activities like this will not only bring you into social contact with other people but will also create routine to help you feel less isolated at home. Here are just a few of the things you could try:
Check out your local library – lots of libraries can give you information on clubs and activities in your local area, some of which may be designed specifically for your age group. Book groups, bridge clubs, knitting groups or chair yoga are all things you could try in a social setting and spend time doing at home.
Consider Volunteering – volunteering is a great way to get out and about with other people while regaining a sense of purpose and some structure to your week. From working in a local charity shop to helping children with their reading at a local primary school, there are lots of ways to make good use of your skills and your time.
Explore Meet-ups – the internet has made it easier than ever for people to share interests. www.meetup.com lists groups and activities in your local area that you can join.
Learn a new skill – it’s never too late to learn a new skill and most colleges offer part-time and evening courses for adults. Perhaps it’s time you learned that foreign language or brushed up on your DIY skills?
Take a holiday – one of the biggest challenges for many people who are feeling lonely following the loss of a partner is the idea that they will no longer be able to go on holiday together. Holidays will be different but they don’t need to be a thing of the past. Perhaps you would enjoy holidaying with a friend, a son or daughter or as part of a group?
Support is Available
Grief is a journey, and loneliness is a staging post along the way for many. Acknowledging the feeling and equipping yourself to move forward is the best way to ensure that loneliness doesn’t become a permanent side effect of your loss. But it’s not always as easy as making a plan; sometimes people need help to overcome the emotions that feed their isolation and prevent them from seeking social contact.
The National Bereavement Service (www.thenbs.org) is a free service with trained advisors that are there to provide guidance and support with any of the emotional or practical aspects of coping with the loss of a loved one. Advisors are available by phone, email or via webchat to listen, empathise and signpost you to sources of help or provide one-to-one support. If you’re struggling to take the first steps to tackling loneliness following the loss of a loved one or have any other questions relating to bereavement, no matter what they may be, it could be the phone call or webchat that makes all the difference.