What is Your Idea of Loneliness? Article for the Association of Women Funeral Professionals

This is an article I wrote for the Association of Women Funeral Professionals. Here is the link and the article is below. Thank you Kim Stacey for printing the article and for being a necessary force for women (and men) in the funeral profession. From the AWFP website:

What is Your Idea of Loneliness?

Loneliness in and of itself is not something that causes distress; it’s the reminder of it, the idea of it. Just the words “lonely” and “alone” can conjure the most primitive emotion that turns simply being by oneself into being the last person on earth, unclad and armed with only a cave(wo)man club squinting to the horizon for a glimpse of movement.

It is my opinion that the perception of loneliness in our society is the biggest issue that plagues all of us and poisons a few of us. The plague is we all have it (or we think we do) and the poison is some people act out because of it (the stereotypical loner mass killer). Loneliness is the picture we see in movies; just like the picture of women with outer physical beauty which we are conditioned to expect. Hollywood simultaneously romanticizes and villainies being alone.

If you are desperately lonely for a long enough time period, your patience will be magically rewarded with ideal companionship out of the blue, even if you live in the ‘middle of nowhere’ and have no vehicle. On the flipside, you will go on a shooting spree because of your recent disappointment and inability to cope.

Neither of these scenarios is a healthy way to look at being alone. If being alone were represented more fairly (and accurately), it would not have such a bum rap. I prefer to look at being alone this way:

“I was lonely. I felt it deeply and permanently, that this state of being on my own might never disappear… It’s never loneliness that nibbles away at a person’s insides, but not having room inside themselves to be comfortably alone.”
― Rachel Sontag, House Rules

Most of us desire companionship because most of us were raised around people. Good or bad, there were warm bodies around us and that is a comfort level most of us don’t necessarily want to lose throughout our lives. So we (again, most of us) find some warm bodies and, depending on our emotional maturity and self love, get along in life; some of us happier than others, some of us less lonely than others. Of course, for some, loneliness is but a symptom of other issues. Social and personality challenges may make it stressful to develop meaningful relationships, which only become more difficult to cultivate and nurture the older we get.

After someone we love (or is connected to us in a meaningful way) dies, we become the cave(wo)man with a club. We are alone in that we know even though some of our framily (friends and family) can sympathize with how we must be feeling, they can never truly know. Each of our relationships is different and upon death, we instinctively recognize that our feelings are entirely unique, which makes us feel very alone. Intimacies shared that will never be shared again are gone. Fantasies of future jubilant resolutions from past harms done by decedent…gone. It is difficult to articulate this pain primarily because we have never had it before. And depending on our relationship with the decedent, there could be a plethora of emotions that conflict with what we consider to be kind. These emotions may feel unnatural, but they are indeed natural, although very confusing – and they proliferate! The domino effect is a perfect analogy of my experience. I felt more alone and confused than ever when my parents died. Fortunately, I thought to call a dear friend who had been through the same thing and in minutes I no longer felt like the last cavewoman on earth. I was still alone in my unique experience, but not alone in my feelings of confusion and sadness.

Are we, each of us, alone? Yes, but we also have a network of support that is very large and gets larger every day with technology. Widow and survivor-type groups of every death circumstance, books on grief, neighbors, online forums, and therapists are all available and want to help. Let them help you feel less alone. And if reaching out for help is not an option for you, try to find some room inside yourself to be comfortably alone. It has the potential to not be such a dark place.

“All alone! Whether you like it or not, alone is something you’ll be quite a lot!”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go! and The Lorax

Kat Reed is an award-winning author as well as a speaker/presenter and advocate for those left behind after a death. The title of her book is Begin Here: Helping Survivors Manage. Her website is www. HelpingSurvivorsManage.com.

From her email signature lines:

Between 2000 and 2011, approximately 6,688 individuals died every single day in the United States*. The survivors of these deaths are our concern. Helping Survivors Manage is committed to delivering practical everyday assistance to the people left behind after a death.

Following the funeral, after everyone has left and you return to the empty residence of the departed, where do you begin? Begin Here…

*source cdc.gov

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