Loneliness is one of the hardest facets of grief. Today I searched through the journal I’ve kept since Arthur died and ‘lonely’ is on almost every page. But I’ve noticed a change in my relationship to loneliness over the last eleven months; I’ll illustrate that change with passages from the journal:
March: The loneliness aches. I’ve realized I’ve really never been lonely before. Certainly not in the last 35 years. I always had Arthur.
I thought I liked to be alone—I often went on hikes by myself for example—but it’s become clear that that was not true aloneness. Arthur was always there when I got home. I never felt this bottomless pit of loneliness before. And being with people makes the loneliness worse; the presence of other people just highlights how alone I am.
April: There is an odd feeling of lonely and not-lonely. I am such a resourceful person and have more things I want to do than time to do them (as usual). At the same time, there is a deep loneliness for Arthur. Some of that loneliness is for someone who knows me deeply, who understands me, who knows my history and my neuroses. All this knowing creates a profound sense of rest. All pretense (or at least it feels that way) can be dropped and it’s okay just to be myself. I guess some people have friends at this level but I don’t.
I feel sorrow for those who don’t have my resources and are truly alone. If I feel the crushing weight of loneliness with the friends I have and the inner resources I have, others must be living lives of quiet desperation and inner devastation.
June: There are worse things than being alone. When I thought of this I laughed because I knew Arthur would love it. Yesterday I went to the grocery store and ran into a couple I know. I really like the woman, but her boyfriend gives me the creeps. It’s hard for me to imagine what she sees in him. “What crazy things people do to avoid being alone,” I thought as I drove home. Let me embrace my aloneness.
July: I’m so lonely. It’s hard going from having someone with you 24/7/365 to having nobody. I find myself just wandering around the house feeling empty. The house is empty. I’m empty. You were always here for me, with me, beside me. The loneliness aches.
August: Tonight I thought: it’s getting really abstract. The thought of missing you, that is. What I mean is so much time has gone by now that I’m used to waking up alone, I’m used to eating alone, I’m used to following my own schedule. So what was once a real bodily sensation of absence is getting to be more and more a mental abstraction. Part of me hates that this is happening.
September: It’s going to be a long time without you. I’m still not happy about that. I still miss you. I’m doing all kinds of things I’d never have done with you here. I love doing these things. But the loneliness for you is always waiting for me when the activity is done. It’s like there’s something wrong with the world; you’re not home waiting for me.
October: Losing a lover. This is something I am really suffering from. My entire adult life has been spent in the company of a lover. This is why I am so alone. Friends don’t even come close to replacing the complete companionship of a lover. I understand now why people re-marry. Once you know the wonder of living with a lover it is hard to live without it.
I am sad, and lonely, and confused. I miss you deeply. But the intensity is easing.
November: I was just wondering whether the fear of being alone has ruled my life. I never lived on my own, not really. I met Arthur within days of graduating from college and six months later we were living together. There were a couple of times over the years when I thought about leaving Arthur; one of the things that held me back was my fear of being on my own.
How much did I buy into some crazy belief that if you were alone that meant there was something wrong with you? That being in a relationship proved my essential okayness?
December: Embrace your aloneness. I think that is the message of this dark time of the winter solstice. Go within. Find yourself. Avoid the impulse during the holiday season to be with people just to escape being alone.
I am embracing solitude, I am breathing it in deeply and letting it feed me.
Chapter #42 of the Tao te Ching:
Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe