We all live alone for different reasons and losing a loved one or partner is one reason why some people are living alone today. What is it like to be grieving while living alone? How do we cope without a household of support? With the help of Sandra, one of our Community Members, we explore what it can be like coping with grief and bereavement while living alone with a few helpful tips drawn from her experience.
If you have never lost a loved one, it can be challenging to know what grief feels like. Grieving after a bereavement can be very difficult and stressful, and nearly everyone will go through it at some point in their life.
However, the loss of a life partner can be particularly devastating, especially when they face the prospect of living completely alone, possible for many years to come.
It is impossible to know how we will react to a loss simply because it is a very individual experience. Still, we shouldn’t need to hide the pain, especially from our family and friends closest to us and who will be concerned for our well being.
The most common feelings of grief experienced following bereavement are depression and sadness. It is often the realisation of your new situation that can cause you to withdraw and isolate yourself as you work through your emotions, quite often remembering the things you did with your partner in the past.
Bringing up old memories can be a bitter-sweet experience following your bereavement, but they can help to resolve feelings of shock, denial and disbelief that you can also feel after losing a loved one.
Experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions
Some people do feel shocked at the loss of a partner, especially if it was unexpected. But shock is a reaction that helps protect us from becoming overwhelmed with emotion, especially immediately after the bereavement, and can leave people feeling numb.
Feeling numb following a loss isn’t bad. It is a natural way to help our minds process the loss at a pace that we can cope with, and this is why some people don’t experience an outburst of grief and tears immediately but often much later in the grieving process.
Experiencing a numb reaction has been described by many to be like detaching yourself from the situation and watching the events unfold like you are watching it happen to someone else or watching it play out like a story on a cinema screen. This can help your mind process what’s going on in a controlled manner and in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you with raw, uncontrolled emotion.
Some people can also feel relief, especially when their partner has gone through a long illness. But then they can also feel guilty for feeling relieved at their passing. While it can be a blessing when the end comes for someone who has been suffering for a long time, it is human nature for us to feel a mixture of relief and guilt at their eventual passing.
Why time is a great healer
Grief can make us feel like we are frozen in time and hit us in ways that we are not prepared for. This is why we all need some time to process our thoughts and emotions, and so we can come to terms with our new, changed identity.
We must let our minds go through feelings of confusion, panic, anger and frustration, even when looking for someone or something to blame for our loss, so our minds can make sense of the event and accept that there is nothing we can do to change history.
Time is the key here, and given time, our feelings of grief will subside and become less painful. Eventually, we all need to find a way to live with our feelings of loss and learn to adjust to our new lives, especially when we live alone.
We should never judge ourselves for how we feel following a bereavement. There is no wrong or right way to feel after the loss of a partner. Some may seek help and comfort from their immediate friends and family right away and be happy to talk through their emotions. Others may prefer to turn inwards and process their feelings quietly within their own head.
Reaching out to our Super Solos Community
At Solo Living, we coined the words ‘living alone through choice or circumstance’, and we have written about the variety of reasons people live alone today. We know some of our wonderful members live alone because of having lost a partner or loved one.
We thought it would be worthwhile exploring this with our Community so members could share their experiences and possibly help others currently going through the same thing.
While we can all acknowledge how difficult it is to grieve alone, sharing our experiences can be quite uplifting and help inspire us to accept our loss and move forward in a healthy, supportive, gentle and caring way.
We asked our Super Solos to share how they coped with grief and bereavement while living alone and if they found anything that helped them through the grieving process. We were particularly struck by what Sandra had to say. These are her words that she kindly gave consent for us to use and which we hope may help anyone going through hard times at the moment due to a bereavement.
A combination of circumstances and choice has led me to live alone. Initially, my relationship of 10 years ended after being cheated on. At the same time, my mum was diagnosed with dementia and I chosen to look after her for the following 7 years until she passed away in 2019.
I actually couldn’t cope with a relationship at that time as well as working full-time as a nurse. I have two extremely close friends who are always there for me and have helped me cope with my grief, but time alone has also enabled me to process my grief in a positive way.
Long walks, meditation and self-care, is a massive help to heal. I sourced online help through local community groups and also ordered books on bereavement and grief. I feel content on my own to reflect on memories and not to be told how I should grieve. It’s is an individual journey and one that shouldn’t be rushed.
My two dogs are my constant companions and a reason to get up and start the day well. Gardening has also helped me be alone with my thoughts while being active and creative and being in nature. I have also started my family tree to keep my connections with my family.
Grief can consume you; it’s better to be able to talk and do something gentle you enjoy. During the pandemic in October, I was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer and had major surgery, of which I was told on my own and had to go through my surgery alone – no visitors!
It was very much going through bereavement again and a fear of the unknown. I went to a voluntary cancer group locally that was still running during lockdown to have counselling and complementary therapies, having reiki and massages. All of this was sourced online.
I’m not one for letting things come to me. I get the help, and I am not afraid to ask for it. I try to be positive and always have a glass half full, some days are hard, and that’s okay (more than okay). We all should be allowed to feel sad and cry, but it’s about picking ourselves up and keep trying again and again.
As my parents used to say to me, “just try your absolute best”. My counsellor also said if you ever feel desperate and so alone, reach out to the “Samaritans”, they will just listen. I never did, but there is always someone to talk to no matter what!
It’s also always nice to have something to look forward to, which for all of us, has been so hard during lockdown. Now I’m enjoying meeting up with friends and looking forward to going back swimming. Whatever it is, looking after yourself should be your priority. I’m in no rush for a relationship. xx
What we can learn from Sandra’s experience?
We can draw a lot of valuable tips from Sandra’s experience to help us get through emotionally stressful events such as losing a loved one. We are very grateful to Sandra for telling us her story and have created a list of tips that she used to help her through her grief. We hope others living alone experiencing grief and bereavement may find them helpful.
Tips for coping with grief and bereavement alone:
- Enjoy complimentary therapies such as aromatherapy, reiki and massage
- Make the most of staying single and use the time to care for yourself
- Give yourself some alone time to process your emotions
- If you have no one to talk to, get in touch with organisations like The Samaritans
- Join online and local community groups for support
- Learn a new hobby to help stay active and fill time creatively
- Open up to and ask for help from close family and friends in your support network
- Read self-help books on coping with bereavement and grief
- Consider taking on and caring for a pet
- Enjoy nature and take long walks in the fresh air and sunshine
- Consider taking up meditation
- Make plans in advance so you have something to look forward to