February 7, 2020

About six months after my husband Ian died, the loneliness of my world without him really started to sink in. I would begin and end the day alone — waking up and going to sleep in a king size bed that felt so empty and vast without him. His sink in the bathroom vanity was crystal clean, untouched. His clothes (the majority packed up or given away) but, his special keepsakes — his favorite Aloha shirts, Broncos jerseys and wedding suit — just hung in our closet collecting dust.

Ian and I loved cuddling together on our couch to watch movies and shows at night once the kids went to sleep. But after he died, I couldn’t bring myself to sit on it without him there. I didn’t have someone to snuggle with, to laugh with or to figure out the plot twists with. The empty couch was just a reminder my loneliness — like so many things I encountered throughout the day.

Sometimes when I drove in my car I literally reached over to the passenger seat to rest my hand on his. But it wasn’t there. I wanted to call him to ask for his advice, but no voice would answer. I wanted to wrap my arms around him to share my contentment for life and feel a warm body against mine, but all I felt was air. A profound hollowness. Almost one year later, I still feel like this at times.

Loneliness is a feeling often experienced in the grieving process. When someone who we interact with — whether its for infrequent holiday get-togethers, weekly phone calls, or seeing them daily — just disappears from your life, there is nothing but emptiness left in the space they once filled. All of the activities and milestones you shared with that person are just reminders of that person’s absence. Even certain clothing, special songs or favorite restaurants can be reminders that your special person is missing. And this emptiness leaves us feeling so alone.

During a playdate, I expressed some of the struggles I had been experiencing as a newly single-mom. Another single-mom (by divorce) chimed in and said that she totally “got it” and continued to share in my misery. While a lot of our challenges were in fact similar, her divorce was not the same as my husband’s death. “How could she not get this? And, how could she make such a comparison?” I thought to myself. Although she was just trying to level with me and help, it actually had the opposite effect.

This sense of aloneness is not only caused by someone special in our lives dying, but also from the feelings of isolation that arise when we think that no one else understands our situation. People often say “Oh I can’t even imagine what you are going through.” And, it’s true! They probably can’t. Nor, do many people know how to talk about death. Unless you’ve experienced a loss, it’s difficult to fully empathize with someone grieving. When no one seems to understand, it can feel like we don’t belong and that we are truly in this struggle alone.

At the peak of my loneliness, I decided to download a dating app. I needed a distraction — even if it wouldn’t necessarily lead to anything. And it worked! I contently swiped away, messaging prospects and getting excited over potential dates — maybe even a future together! But, after a few months of casual dates that were really just plain bad, and then a three-month-long relationship that came to an abrupt end over a text message (future blog post coming. Stay tuned.), I realized that the only person who could fix my loneliness — was me.

I read this post from Mark Groves (aka @createthelove) and everything clicked. I was looking for all of the answers to my loneliness outside of myself. But, what I needed was to focus the attention within. I needed to identify the thoughts that drove these feelings of disconnectedness — the fear that I would never find love or feel whole again; the illusion that we only get one true love; the discomfort of physically taking up space — alone. These were all thoughts that I was telling myself, which in turn, fed by loneliness!

As I started to identify what thoughts triggered my loneliness, I was able to change my perception of them. I asked myself how I could enjoy being alone? How could I use my alone time to learn something new about me, about my passions, or the world around me? When I felt physically alone, I turned to my fitness communities — moving together on a spin bike or at my barre studio — which reminded me that even though I was alone without my partner, I had an entire community who loved and supported me.

Our loneliness is often what we make of it. Sometimes its hard to separate the stories that we tell ourselves from reality, and when we don’t, they become our reality! Sometimes we just need some space to feel our feelings to recognize what’s really going on inside our minds.

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