Only the unloved and unloving escape the loneliness and deep grief that comes in the aftermath of losing a loved one. Loneliness, it is the ultimate price we pay for the loving relationships we had the pleasure of enjoying during our shared lives. What is this devastating feeling of loneliness? Is it being alone? Well only those who are in the throes of the agonising pain that follows the loss of a loved one, truly understand the intensity of the pain and anguish that must be suffered. A new study conducted in the University of California has shown that loneliness doubles the risk of dying and also escalates the multiple measures of functional decline in people who have lost a loved one during the first year of bereavement.
Being alone for some might be by choice, many enjoy the pleasure of their own company, but the loneliness experienced after death is a different ball-game. Loneliness is now considered the greatest social problem of modern times, and it is especially acute for those who have lost their life partner or other significant person in their life. The awareness of society at large of how this impacts is inadequate and more often than not ignored to the detriment of those involved. People do not really want to become involved in somebody else’s grief, as they themselves feel unsure and unable of how to deal with the aftermath of bereavement and loss. Death is a fact of life we never really think about, or were even taught how to deal with, and will be faced by everybody eventually, and will be a journey that has to be made alone.
The most painful factor that has to be endured is the intensity of the relationship lost. Research shows that 40% of bereaved people suffer from some form of anxiety disorder in the early years after the death of a loved one. Stress after a loved one is placed at the top of the list of the most serious stresses to endure. The loss of a child is extremely difficult because it is not the rule of nature that parents bury a child. The feelings of loneliness after a child is relentless because of the deprivation of seeing and loving that child as they grow up and become adults. Time perspective after this loss is difficult to draw a line under, and for some parents they never get over the loss. The sudden death of a loved one is a difficult challenge and when no goodbyes are said, it escalates the deep anguish and surreal loss that is suffered by those left behind. Parents and families that have lost a loved one by suicide, suffer the added trauma of the “why’s”. As time moves on it may not be as intensive and painful, but time often stands still, and is difficult to get to the stage of accepting that life has ended for their child. The inadequate feelings that follow is a burden that is hard to get over in trying to live life with all the consequences that suicide leaves in its path. Anger is a very real and present feeling that besets the family and that brings its own problems in trying to resolve and accept the finality of their loss. The anxiety of separation is an appalling threat to one’s confidence, and a return to happiness and hope for the future is a daily struggle. For many families a nightmare has begun, and the toll it takes to go on living, is an unprecedented challenge.
The loss of a partner is a life changing event that brings many difficulties for the person who is mourning. Most of us measure our happiness by the value we place on our relationships. Many suffer in their anxiety the physical symptoms common in panic situations, like palpitations, difficulty in breathing, depression, loss of hope, a yearning to be with the departed, fear, the physical lack of energy, an escalation of any existing medical problems, loss of appetite and an intractable sleeplessness. The feelings and the intensity of the loss suffered and the physical pain is soul destroying and is ever present and the intense grief unbearable. To find oneself behaving unusually, irrationally, fearful, frustrated, feeling foolish and unable to explain why, is a bewildering and frightening experience in an already distressed situation. Friends and family move on and away, and the guilt encompassed in trying to hide the tears, the outbursts of desperation at the loss of someone significant in life, is all fraught with the bitterness of being left alone and with the feelings of purposelessness and denial. In the early months of bereavement the empty hungering aspects of grief and loneliness needs to be expressed, and support, care and concern is of paramount importance at this time. People who are composed and self sufficient and outwardly appear in control are often the people that need careful understanding and help.
Society expects that a person should have the skills to accept their changed circumstances and this is a hampering of the grieving process and is destructive and elongates the time of grieving, loneliness and acceptance that a life is over and cannot return. The finality of death is difficult to grasp and often the first feeling is one of numbness which is a merciful insulation from the intensity of the emotional pain, and an auto pilot allows for the suspension of the shock and disbelief that follows, especially over the days of the funeral. This is always a very difficult time for family and friends, in being there for the support that need to be shared and the comfort that is needed. Death and the circumstances that surround it are not the crucial factors, but the loss, deprivation and loneliness that will come as reality sets in. Life will ultimately have to be a courageous leap into the unknown if the loss is to be accepted. Death is final , inescapable, but it has happened to someone else. The loss which those left behind must live with, in trying to come to terms with emotions, physical and spiritual and the consequences of the challenge ahead often fills the mourner with deep fears. Only hope can clear the road to recovery.
The many mysteries of life really surface at the time of death; where are they now? Can they see and hear us? Can they help us in our time of greatest need, or will life ever return to equilibrium? Memories are fostered, days of significance are remembered and the pain and grief is revived in all its awfulness during these times. There are no travel agents to guide us on life’s journey, our destination is always of our own making, and only courage and hope will see us through.
But as time slips by, as time does, the mourner must face up to reality and acceptance, the painful feelings may lessen and the good times are remembered with more enthusiasm and you may begin to look forward rather than looking back. Grief and loneliness will only go away when it is ready, it does not mean that the sadness goes away, just suspended for now. Acceptance is the first step to a more peaceful existence and a positive step forward in regaining a sense of sanity, and an opportunity to rebuild a life that no doubt will have grown, and benefitted from such a new experience. Faith plays a big part in how we see the end of life and our beliefs in the afterlife. Many people will tell you that only hope that comes with faith in an afterlife sustained them in the aftermath of their loss. A belief that we will meet again eases the pain somewhat, but the eternal question remains, “where are they now”, and there is no human being able to answer that question. For those bereft of someone they loved, it is of the utmost importance that family, friends and neighbours rally round to help them make the adjustment, that will allow for a return to being able to live without the inner pain and suffering that envelops life during that sad time and allow for a peaceful return to living.
“ As long as the day is, the night will fall, and every sunrise is a message from God and every sunset His signature”. (author unknown)