Approaching and Acknowledging Grief and Loneliness
The truth is, this journey of grief is an extremely personal one. The variety with which we experience grief is as infinite as the differences in the human experience.
The pain of grief is shrouded in mystery. We’re desperate to say, “we’ve been where you are,” but for something so universally experienced, grief is still very lonely. In connecting with others and sharing stories, one theme stands out above all else: loneliness. Grief leaves you feeling stranded and bewildered, lonely in a room full of people. No matter the sympathy surrounding a person in mourning, there remains a feeling of being utterly alone. At some point or another, grief touches us all. How, then, is it still such an isolating experience?
Frankly, it can be maddening on both ends. It hurts to watch a loved one suffer, and it hurts to suffer in front of your loved ones. It’s difficult to know your best intentions aren’t helping, and it’s difficult to resent the kind words of people you love. There’s something especially frustrating about not being able to come up with kind words that someone doesn’t even want to hear. It’s so hard in these situations to say, “I don’t know what to say.” Equally difficult is saying, “Please, don’t speak.” This breeds lonely feelings, and unacknowledged loneliness tends to build on itself.
The truth is, this journey of grief is an extremely personal one. The variety with which we experience grief is as infinite as the differences in the human experience. We are all human, and so our pain must follow suit. This causes a lot of unwelcome and exasperating emotional distance. Humans are desperate to help, but it’s difficult to do so when dealing with something so sensitive, so raw. It’s tough because there is no way you can truly understand another person’s pain. We all feel pain and want to reduce the pain of others, but sympathy often feels insincere and words lose their meaning. It’s up to us to navigate that together.
Sometimes, all that can be done is… well, nothing. In times of great emotional distress, a lot of us want nothing more than to be allowed to feel the pain. It’s hard to ask for quiet and companionship at the same time but it’s important to let those we love experience their grief. It’s unpleasant, but if we don’t provide space to process these emotions, we’re doing our loved ones a disservice. A powerful way to support someone is by simply permitting them to feel bad. Mourners deserve to have support without feeling obligated to keep a brave face for the sake of someone else. That expectation itself is a huge motivator for isolation.
You truly can “be there” for someone by just showing up. Often, that’s the gesture that is most appreciated. There is a way to provide support without input. It is quite possible to help hold space for someone without being tempted to offer (unwelcome) guidance. A person can experience their emotions personally without having to literally be alone. Sure, it’s not easy to break habits (especially under the circumstances as sensitive as these). However, with mindfulness and consideration, we can change our behavior and improve the way we interact. Like so very many things, it’s all about communication. You are capable of supporting and being supported. We are all better than canned, artificial, mass-produced responses.
There’s no rule about how to appropriately respond to someone’s pain — and if there is, it’s a rule fit to break. Tried-and-true methods are not guaranteed to resonate well with the bereaved. That’s why merely talking about it is so important. Gently, of course, but we still must have these exchanges. When we ask each other questions less vague than “how can I help?” we gain understanding about the people we love.
In the same way, when we communicate our needs, we learn. We want to understand each other and be understood. The only way to gain this understanding is through open and honest communication. Otherwise, we get really, really lonely.
Never forget, love and honesty are a powerful combination. When we are true with ourselves and with those we care for, we’re better able to connect. We can alter the face of loneliness. It’s only possible to deeply relate to other humans if we are comfortable with our own truth and feelings. Emotional honesty is a language of caring and compassion. We must speak in that language when we speak about the needs of people we love.
The most tender path through grief depends greatly upon emotional support. Love is what brings us all together and it is the most common ground to provide this support upon. If we speak in the language of emotional honesty, we can bridge painful gaps in our relationships.
Together, let’s illuminate grief.