“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

-Louise Erdrich

We are aware that physical distancing helps to stem the spread of COVID-19.  It is essential that we stay at home as much as we can to save our lives, and the lives of others.  But this enforced isolation has taken a toll on our mental stability.  For those of us who are grieving the loss of loved ones, enforced isolation, and accompanying loneliness, has crippled our psyches and has intensified our yearning and longing.  It has taken bereavement to a new and often untenable level affecting all the areas of our lives.  As a widow of almost five years, I was just beginning to find joy again.  The pandemic has put me into a tailspin of sadness and brought back the absence of my late husband. and the loss of the comfort and necessity of his loving arms and endearing words, which held such import for me at troubled times. 

Many wrongly assume that solitude and loneliness are the same state of being.  Both are characterized by solitariness, but the resemblance stops there.  Loneliness in grief is a form of isolation where one feels that something is missing.  Loneliness is not a choice.  In this pandemic, we have been thrown into isolation that we are loath to endure.  Under lockdown the isolation has brought back the loneliness I first encountered in the sudden loss of my husband.  In this new world we are facing, we don’t even have friends and family to hug us in comfort. 

Solitude is a state of being alone by choice.  Solitude can be an introspective and comforting space.  Solitude is a positive step towards reexamination of one’s values and time to recharge and regenerate our souls.  Solitude is the path to taking back the control of our lives and allowing us to know ourselves better.

Loneliness evokes abandonment issues for grievers and often precipitates a downward spiral back to the initial time of loss.  We are all social creatures who do not deal well with being alone 24/7.  The isolation from the pandemic has brought the pain of grief to the forefront in our lives.  I find that I lose my confidence and self-esteem as I brood alone about the scary aspects of this crisis.  But I am also able to acknowledge that I am feeling lonely and isolated which helps me to find a way out of the fog of sorrow.  By accepting the fact that I am not in a good place, I can find the tools to transform my sorrow into the positive aspects of solitude.

I am acutely aware that solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. Transforming isolation and loneliness into contented solitude is not an easy task.  Being alone is a skill and just like any other skill it must be learned and practiced.  One way I have learned to cope in my isolation is talking to myself.  I might say, after having a delicious fried egg and sausage with crisp brioche toast and avocado for lunch; “man you can cook, Laurie!” Another example is when I look at the clock and say: “is it five o’clock so I can have a glass of wine?  OK, it’s five o’clock somewhere so Laurie, open the vino!”  I often find myself hollering at the characters on television and say “why did you go through that door when you knew the bad guys were inside, you dimwits?”  These statements help me through my isolation and give some weird-style comfort to me. 

Here are a few ways to find the comfort of good solitude in a pandemic:

  • Have a good old-fashioned cry.  Now that we are in a pandemic, no one can see your swollen eyes and the release will be good for you.  Note: do not do this before a Zoom call!
  • Take a walk with music on your headphones and find beauty in nature, peace, and the endorphins we so need to boost our self-esteem.
  • Journalize.  Keep a record of your feelings so you can look back and hopefully find some solace in your progress.
  • Identify your loneliest times and alter your routine so that you can avoid extra pain.  I find the weekends the toughest times, so I plan ahead and call people, set up zoom calls, or sit physically distant from friends outside in the open air.
  • Clean out your closets.  I know, you have done that over and over in this pandemic, but keep doing so.  Many charity organizations will pick up donations which will make you feel better.
  • Don’t expect others to guess what you need. Reach out and call friends when it gets tough.   
  • Try to get involved in a good book.  I just read The Last Flight by Julie Clark and Harlan Coben’s The Boy from the Woods which held my attention.
  • Try to embrace solitude as an adventure.  Use the time to remember your loved one and try to smile at the memories.

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