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Grief and The Holidays: Our love hate relationship with Loneliness.

It’s true isn’t it? You love being alone but then you feel lonely.

The best way I can describe loneliness is that it’s like a Tardis. It truly is bigger on the inside that it is on the outside. So much so, it’s worth dissecting it just a little bit.

First off, there is a big difference between being alone and being lonely.

Most people like to be alone (some more than others) but no one wants to be lonely. This is something we battle with in grief on a bunch of different levels especially at the holidays. The best way I can describe it is:

We feel loneliness in our whole being while smiling at the people we love wishing we could be alone.

The pandemic saw us in this place often. We are not alone but felt lonely. The truth is, we aren’t afraid or sad to be alone – in fact, it is often preferred but we do grapple with this idea of loneliness, and it is happening on two levels.

Life-Sized Loneliness

We will spend the rest of our life regarding life experiences through perspective of our passed loved one. This type of ache and loneliness will always be part of who we are. It does change over time to hold less sadness and more endearment, but it will always feel a little lonely.

Think of the following statements, if you say them with sorrow they take on the heaviness of a fresh loss. However, saying them 20 years after the loss, yes, there is still sadness, but there is also a glimmer of endearment, of fondness.

“If only Joe was here”

“I wish I could ask Joe.”

“Joe would have loved this…”

“I can hear Joe laughing now”

This type of loneliness is one that we must hold onto and go slow with. This is part of that life long journey with grief that ebbs and flows. It will not be felt for a few months and then a moment shared between a dad and his daughter that just crushes us for a week. Journey slowly with this one. It is the type of loneliness that even new love, new beginnings or big transitions cannot erase. Be gentle with yourself because this type of loneliness holds so much of your sorrow for what was, what is and what will never be.

In the moment Loneliness

This is the type of loneliness that happens when the people around you pretend like nothing significant has happened while you spin and spiral inside until it bubbles over in anger and frustration. It is the one where we are most likely to snap at our loved ones for…well…anything really.

“No one gets it”

“Its like Joe never died”

“Has everyone forgotten him.”

“I wish someone missed him as much as I did.”

We often find ourselves at a crossroad inside this type of loneliness. It is when we don’t want to be alone but we cannot be around people anymore. And we feel like we must make a choice between grinning and bearing it or going home to our sanctuary.

Well, I’m here to give you permission to do whatever the heck you’d like. For example, what if you can do both? What if you decide before you head to the party, that you are going to take your own car and that you tell the host that your energy is a bit of a downer this year. That you would love to stay for dinner but would like to go home before the dancing starts. What if you can’t bear to see everyone surrounding the dinner table but can make it for a couple cocktails after before the good ol’ Irish goodbye?

Balancing these moments can be exactly what we need to feel the luxury of love and laughter and friendship for just a while but also creating space for all the emotions that rise to the surface.

So – while we have this love hate relationship with loneliness, really breaking it down into manageable pieces is helpful and doing so each day or before big events helps put everything into perspective.

1) How do I want to feel love from my family and friends this year?

2) How can I balance my connections so that they feel good instead of forced

3) How can I go slow and gentle this year?

Be ok with leaving early, be ok not going to the big party but perhaps meeting people for brunch, be ok sharing what you can when you have the energy to do so. My one big caveat to the rebellious statement - do whatever the heck you want?

Please see people.

Even if it’s for one day or just a small few. Slap on some deodorant, pick up a pie and see people, let them wrap their arms around you too. They need to see that you will make it even if it feels like you can’t.

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