“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. Two can be as bad as one. It’s the loneliest number since the number one.” – Harry Nilsson / Three Dog Night
Solitude and loneliness are not the same – particularly in grief. Sometimes, it simply feels better to be alone.
Isolation can be inadvertently forced on you by others. People stop calling to check on you, often because they are at a loss on how to help. Events will happen to which you do not receive an invitation. They may think that you will feel your loss even more acutely if it is a “couples” gathering, and you are there alone.
Sometimes it is just easier to avoid others, rather than dealing with the (often exhausting) input of well-meaning friends and family. Self-protection is a key motivator for seeking solitude in grief.
If you are a friend or family member trying to support someone in their grief, it’s important to recognize that although loneliness and solitude may share isolation in common, there is a marked difference between the two: solitude is a choice and loneliness is not.
Loneliness is a form of isolation where it feels that something is missing. It is not a choice and is often accompanied by feelings exclusion or estrangement, at times leading to dramatic and negative changes in self-esteem. Through my work with grieving men and women, discussions of loneliness are often accompanied by words like “deficient”, “hopeless”, “unwelcome” and “outcast.” One client described loneliness as “a constant awareness of my aloneness.” Many of us have experienced the feeling of being surrounded by loved ones, but still feeling excruciatingly lonely.
Solitude, conversely, is a form of isolation involving being alone without being lonely. Solitude can be a beneficial and constructive choice. After my mother died, and still to this day, I often choose the quiet of solitude to work through my grief. Through my clients, I understand that for many people, solitude gives space to self-care, yoga, meditation, reading, writing and simply having the opportunity to organizing their most personal and intimate thoughts. “Solitude has become my sixth sense for finding a path to restoration. Solitude is a positive time for inner reflection. In solitude, I have found sufficient company. In solitude, I have learned to cherish myself.” (A. Bacciaglia, 2012)
The loneliness of grief is devastating. It requires a huge amount of time and effort to work through. As a griever, navigating the space between loneliness and solitude can be especially difficult. If you are suffering from loneliness, though it may seem counterintuitive, reaching out to trusted friends, loved ones or a professional is key to your healing. Simply talking through your emotions, without judgement, can help. Should you choose solitude as a means of self-care, please know that that is your right. You owe no explanation, nor are you required to justify your actions to friends and family who may not understand. As someone trying to support a griever, it is imperative to recognize this for what it is: a person who has lost pieces of their heart and of themselves, simply trying to rebuild their life.