When it comes to the list of things humans naturally rebuff, separation is right up there with loss. We don’t like either for the same reason, they create one of grief’s most dreaded effects: loneliness. Unfortunately, the yearning that comes with grief is not short-lived and can last a lifetime.
When someone we have deeply loved passes away we are confronted with the task of identifying and establishing a new relationship. Since we are sensory beings, we naturally ground relationships in the physical senses – hearing, seeing, feeling, even tasting. When someone dies and the physical self is no longer here, we can no longer rely on the senses to express or receive indication of the deceased’s presence and love.
For people who do not believe in a next world, the after-life relationship with their deceased loved one is built solely on the past. Connection with the deceased is experienced in memory, pictures, stories and conversations. A person who believes the journey ends with death is no less lonely for their loved one than one who believes life continues, how they cope with the loneliness is shaped through memory.
Some people believe in reincarnation, others that the spirit continues to live in another realm such as heaven. Some cultures and religious traditions believe in a direct connection between the deceased and the living, such as Catholic belief in the communion of saints or the Lakota Tribe belief that the deceased “walks on” but continues to be present in the survivor’s everyday life.
What we believe about life after death will strongly influence how we manage grief’s journey and its ensuing loneliness. Whether our lives are shaped by spiritual, religious or secular beliefs, through the grieving process we begin to position our loved one in our heart and everyday life. Healthy grieving acknowledges and addresses the loneliness and successfully establishes a new way of relating.
People we deeply love are irreplaceable, and they will forever remain in our consciousness and hearts. Rituals to honor a life well lived and acknowledge a person’s legacy are valuable antidotes to loneliness. Such rituals might include a personal memory altar in one’s home, the lighting of a candle at family celebrations, or a daily time to converse with the deceased just as you did when they were alive. Performing random acts of kindness in their name, volunteering for a cause they believed in, or having an annual fund-raiser to benefit those in need, can counter the pain of loneliness.
Wherever you are on grief’s journey, respect your loneliness, it is a strong reminder of the love you continue to feel for someone who remains in and with you.