Widowhood: Fighting the Stigma of Loneliness

A widow fights loneliness

Hiking in a Meetup Group

Loneliness equals shame. The hardest thing I went through after George died was being lonely. With few friends, no kids and a family consisting of my elderly dad and step-mom, I’d sit at home at night and think, “Who’d notice if I vanished?’

“I’m alone because my husband died” became “I’m alone because no one likes me.” Suddenly, I was back to being an unpopular geek in high school spending my weekend nights wtih Dr. Demento and an un-opened geometry book.

I get the most writing from people in their second year of widowhood. ”Where did everybody go?” they ask. Offers of walks and dinners have dried up. Friends have stopped checking in on them. The searing pain is still there but the companionship has vanished. Or maybe the pain has abated enough that we look around and ask, as I did in my second year, “Is this all there is to my ‘new’ life?” I also wrote these really sad articles where people would ask in the comments, “Are you going to be okay?”

 

I found it so hard to reach out, to tell someone, “I’m lonely. I could use some time with a friend.” Maybe follow that up with, “Do you want to go for brunch this weekend?’

And the predictable answer, “Oh, Thanks but I am just so swamped.” And the extra dollop from the particularly insensitive, “Just get out there!” And let’s not forget those who reel off a list of activities which ostensibly could include another person, but apparently not you.

We don’t talk about loneliness like it’s an illness. But it seems like one to me.

A big umbrella of an illness with many different causes and varied symptoms.  I started having anxiety attacks at night, hyperventilating because I felt so unbearably alone in my own house.

I drank too much to numb out my feelings. I was angry because I felt so cut off from people. I was a scary driver. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue living. I’d seen my husband through cancer but who cared about me? When a man came along who told me I was beautiful and that he loved me, I let him practically move in with me.

We would suggest, however, that seeking counseling or a bereavement group is usually better than seeking sex right away in order to sort out your feelings.
-Kubler-Ross and Kessler, On Grief and Grieving

But aside from therapy, they don’t say what you should do.  I think we should be having dialogues on how to help the unbearably lonely. I’m not alone in losing my spouse of many years and feeling alienated. Or thinking I was going out of my skull being alone. Or doing things I wouldn’t have done were I not so desperate for human contact.

Maybe the dialogue about loneliness could have a part about how to help someone who’s suffered a loss by talking to them. All you have to say is, “I’m sorry. Would you like to get a coffee and talk?” But people don’t seem to know that. I found out later that some people didn’t contact me after George died because they were uncomfortable talking about death. Not knowing what to say, they stayed away.

Being lonely is stigmatizing. People don’t seem to get that when you’re on your own, a simple dinner out can mean the difference between sitting at home lamenting our losses and thinking that this new life too can be good. I wish people reached out instead of shying away when you say you’re widowed, often saying “that’s my worst fear” or “I couldn’t deal with it.”

Widowhood is not contagious. And resilience isn’t something we do in a vacuum.

I’m a writer who spends most of her days alone with an IMAC. My New Year’s Resolutions  (1) to be less lonely in my own life and (2) to try to help people who are lonely.

So, I resolve to:

  1. Reach out more. As a single person, you have to schedule everything. You don’t have someone to drag out the door with you when you want an iced latte or a stroll. I will reach out at least once a week to set something up.
  2. People talk about volunteering as a way to deal with loneliness. I’ve come out of my widow fog enough to look into starting a local grief group maybe through my local synagogue or meetup.com.  Maybe just a mid-day coffee/walk?
  3. I will be more positive about possibly…OMG…sharing space and deepening my relationship with my new person. I’ve lived alone for almost five years. With no disruptions in my space. Or my decor. Or my meal plan of many, many salads. Wanting something does not mean it will end…It will just be more cluttered.

Now, let’s get to your resolutions if you’ re lonely:

  1. Try taking a class or joining a group in something that interests you. When George died, I tried joining a synagogue (even though I’m not religious), a car club, Rotary (no one who knows me believes this) and something about connecting with my divine feminine. I tried working at our local bookstore before realizing I’m a curmudgeon. What stuck for me was yoga and writing.  But maybe try one a month until you find something that resonates.
  2. If you’ve been procrastinating on dating, stop putting it off. You can meet people in  a public place for a drink or coffee, devote an hour, and be on your way. Online dating let’s you see a lot of what’s out there. It’s how I met my person. And that did change my life. My handy checklist how to tell if you’re ready to date after loss.

What have you done to cope with loneliness? And if you’re going to start dating again, what can I help you with?

Love,

Debbie

 

 

14 Comments

  • Jeanette says:

    Debbie, thanks so much for giving me topics on which to vent.

    I’ve been widowed for ten years and have since had two long term boyfriends. I am unusual in that I love to be alone, and have always been that way – I honestly believe that if I hadn’t met my departed soul mate, I may still be single. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to have a partner, but it does make me a lot more picky because well, I’d rather be alone than put in the work it takes to compromise the hell out of my current life. The ‘older people are a cynical lot” stuck a chord, because ‘cynical’ is the word I use for myself when I think about dating! As a career sales person, I can spin anything into a positive, and I will, but whenever I sit down to write my profile, I end up abandoning the project thinking ‘Is it worth it?’ because here’s how I end up thinking when considering my dating profile. Warning: Men may be offended after reading this. No one’s perfect after all, and I’m sure there are a thousand counterpart issues about women – hell, as I reread this, most of them can in fact pertain to the female.

    My profile:
    What I want in a man:
    No couch potatoes who watch inane TV during the day while I work around the house and garden. “Storage Wars, Chopped, Survivor, reruns of Lost, and endless ‘classic’ ball games that you’ve already seen a thousand times, to name a few.

    No men who think that the minute you fall in love, it’s ok to get fat (sitting in front of the TV too much, perhaps?). I am not a personal trainer, dietician or cheerleader (“come on! Let’s get out and exercise!”, even though I have managed to stay fit). I’d like to stay attracted to the man I’m with, and I’d like someone who makes the same effort as I do to stay that way. And why do people always blame this problem on the woman’s cooking? For F’s sake, stop blaming the woman!

    No loud snoring or cover hogs. This is something you can’t really help but I don’t love hurting your feelings by sleeping on a regular basis in the guest room. Some women I know have become so used to snoring, they can’t sleep without it. I’m never going to be one of them.

    No men who don’t voluntarily help clean up or cook without me asking. I am not a maid, and I don’t love nagging. And, alas, I am not your mother.

    No men who have no clue how to work a drill or hammer. I need help around here! Some people say you either get a man who is handy, or who can pay for ‘the guy’ who can come out and do the work. I personally would have more respect for a man who has learned how to do it than the one who can make a phone call. I’m impatient and want it done now – it’s the reason I have learned how to use a drill and hammer.

    And my favorite, and certainly not unique to me – No men who lie about age. How nice for you to date someone way younger, but no thank you from this side of the fence. I’ve already been a widow and would like to minimize my chances of it happening again. Your magnificent personality isn’t going to change my mind, but rather piss me off because you’ve wasted my time and insulted my intelligence by thinking I can’t tell. Besides, how can a relationship start with a lie? What else are you lying about? One of the reasons women lie about their age on line is because they are tired of getting approached by men who are so much older than they are. Still wrong, but ‘everyone does it’ isn’t an excuse either.

    I can certainly put together a more Pollyanna positive profile, but every time I begin the process I feel one big eye roll coming from within, and think – I love my girlfriends and (most of) my family – they quell my urge for companionship when I want it. I’m hoping there’s another loner out there who is honest, and has trouble sitting for long. I suppose the only way I’m going to find him is to get going on spinning my ‘wants’ into positives. Maybe some time in 2018.

    In the mean time, I’ve got work to do around here…

    • Debbie says:

      Well said from a powerful (and I happen to know) stunning woman. I know I”ve met guys who lie about their age and its, like, obvious. You really highlight the need not to settle. And to do that, we need to be comfortable and confident in ourselves. And I totally get that dating can feel like just one more chore.

  • Don says:

    1st time commenting, though I found your blog over a year ago. I am 31 months out. my g/f who I was with for a month short of 32 years passed on 6/10/15. I was looking for support groups in the early months after she passed but couldn’t find one that fit because I work an evening shift.

    Early on I noticed that my days were empty, I rarely got phone calls or even texts and an invite for a meal or even a cup of coffee was even rarer. So in doing web searches, I came across Soaring Spirits,Widowed Village and Meetup.com. The Widowed Village site has been a God send for me in the mornings before I leave for work and when I return home. It doesn’t take the place of human contact, but at least I am interacting with people who “get it”. The Meetup group for widows and widowers I found here in NYC has also been amazing. I get to sit and share a meal and activity with members of this TRIBE I belong to now. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

    I have also tried museums, hiking in the woods and traveling, and as much as I love those things, I do them alone, she isn’t here to share them with me, so it feels empty. That is why I spend so much time on Widowed Village and go to as many of the meetups as I can, because its just ME now, we had no children so it will ALWAYS be just ME.

    Thank you

    • Debbie says:

      Thanks for commenting and letting me know this resonated. I like Widowed Village too. I’ve joined a couple facebook groups for widows and found empathy and connection alhtough they don’t take the place of human contact.I get that feeeling of venturing out on your own but feeling like you’re always on your own. Making some girlfriends to hang out with really helped me. They’re my tribe and I’m happy you found one too. Take care.

  • Kerry says:

    It’s such a work in progress, isn’t it? Fighting loneliness. I’m 6.5 years out from the loss of my husband (from divorce, not death) and still grieving. Some days I love my new life and feel so blessed to have all these opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had, and other days it still just sucks. I just read a helpful book called The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. She has a great TED talk, too, on vulnerability. (https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability)
    And she is a shame expert. All good stuff to help us through the loss and grieving process.

    • Debbie says:

      It is a work in progress. Sometimes, I’m getting somewhere. Sometimes not. Thanks, Kerry. I’m going to check out these resources!

  • Susan says:

    Loneliness, yes that shameful stigmatizing shit burden we widows wear. I am almost 4 years without my husband and have tired the online dating for the last year. It is so discouraging, just brings me back to more loneliness. I think it is so hard for those who are not widows to get it. I have friends who tell me , you have to learn how to love to be alone and love yourself before you can be with others- and I want to scream till I am blue in the face- the anger that brings up in me. How dare they! They with their partners to go home to every night. I just don’t know what to say back. I did not chose to be alone, I am a extrovert, I would never chose to be alone. I had 6 children, married when I was 20, I have never been alone. Don’t tell me to learn how to love it. Their words leave me more lonely. Fearful they are right. I also get “that’s not grief it’s depression go back on your medication”. I inwardly feel even worse, less love for myself because they are trying to help, yet denying who I am and my grief. Saying in effect I have no right to feel it. And still I am the lonely, alone even more so.

    • Debbie says:

      Oh Susan, I am so sorry for your loss. Dating often made me feel more lonely too. And I TOTALLY agree how awful it is to get advice from the non-widowed on “love being alone” when—-oh yeah—-they’re not! And we’ve gone to being alone virtually all of the time. I can love myself and STILL be miserable because my husband died.

      “Gaslighting’ refers to denying someone’s true experience. And I’m seeing some of that in your comments too. You are grieving the most major loss. Medication doesn’t abate grief. We have the right to grieve. It doesn’t make us weaker. I wrote two Huff Po articles on not having my grief denied or pathologized. And other widowed folk agreed. I so get where you are coming from. Thank you for commenting.

  • Kristyn says:

    I lost my husband just 3 months ago. He was 54 and we had been married for 26 years. In the past 2 years I’ve lost my mother, her sister, my FIL, an uncle and two cousins. My own father died when I was 7. At age 48, I’m now completely alone. I have my 4 daughters (25,22,11, and 9) but I don’t have anyone who makes me feel like I’m really important to them. I am now IT for everyone else and I miss my partner and soulmate. I have a blog too…. and I’ve been reaching out, trying to find a network of people. Thanks for being that for me today!

    • Debbie says:

      Hey Kristyn, I am so sorry for the loss of your husband and your other family members. Thank you for reaching out to me. Let me know your blog name.

      I’m sure you’re important to your daughters and others. Three months is so recent. That you are functioning at all is a real accomplishment. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. Sending hugs and 💕

  • Betsy says:

    Hi Debbie:

    Another great article. Thank you. You speak the words that I feel as well. You know I always comment. Have just been thinking about things.

    Bob passed in 2011. We were high school sweethearts. I am a people person. I like to talk, be around people, have fun. I always have a story. I don’t make them up, but they are stories that people love, and I love sharing them.

    I do feel the loneliness also. I have gotten better by myself and doing things. I joined a group that plays cards once a week. I like to go to the movies, out to eat. I have been trying to find a tribe to join, but even having friends, they are just friends, not close friends. I honestly don’t have any special friends, even though I know lots of people. I keep trying. Each new day is a new day. I try to stay positive, and upbeat. Sometimes it is just beyond what I can handle. His birthday is 1/17, he would have turned 66. Having said that, I guess I am thinking more how alone I still am.

    Yes, I am still lonely. Talking to myself or the cat helps, but missing other people is very real. I will just try and start over with each new day. Thank you so much for your posts. It is very comforting to interact with you.

    • Debbie says:

      Hi Betsy,
      I always love hearing from you. I’ll be thinking of you on the 17th. George’s birthday, July 29th, is always a really hard day for me. It just reminds me of the time he should have had.

      I know it’s hard whrn you’re reaching out but not meeting anyone who becomes a special friend. Sometimes it just takes time for more casual friends to become closer. I’ve sometimes felt I don’t have a truly special friend, but then a yoga friend will make a comment that shows she just “gets it” and I feel less alone. It’s just little things sometimes. Take care, 💕

  • Julie says:

    Well just got home from trying to fill a empty day into something more, didn’t work. I could have wrote any of these posts. Lonely lonely, I have been without my sweet man for almost 2 1/2 years. I just reading an article about when people are widowed about 75% of family and friends disappear for your life. I’m here to tell you it true. Phone calls, visits, and invites have all but ceased. I would like a tribe of girlfriends, however married friends don’t want no part of the club that I’m in and the few widows I have meet, don’t want to make too big of an effort in trying something different. I do volunteer once a week at a soup kitchen, and have just started a grief group outreach at the church I attend. I have joined a few meetups, hiking group and a travel group. However I still come home to a empty house and go to bed and wake up by myself. Its lonely. Maybe its time to start dating, that a scary thought I haven’t dated in 30 years. Not ever sure how to go about that…dating sites.???

    • Debbie says:

      Hey Julie, I know that 75% thing. I’m lucky I found a tribe of girlfriends, some of whom will do stuff, even on Saturday nights. I found them through yoga. I admire your volunteer efforts. It sounds like you’re doing the right stuff.

      I too was lonely waking up alone. If you feel ready to date, I’d say try it. I like the site OK Cupid the best. People usually have more detailed profiles that provide more info than other sites To me, it seemed like a better, less weird group of guys. I’ve gotten fewer inappropriate messages on that site. You can fill out a short profile and look around before putting up a big one.

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