On using the 'L' word: Loneliness after bereavement

Years ago, holidays to France were an annual feature. The rumble of the wheels down the ferry ramp and the first sight of a French flag fluttering over the port always brought a frisson of joy. So, too, did speaking another language. The sheer fact of speaking a different language and saying different things made me feel like a different person. I could say them ‘over there’…

I am about to write something from ‘over here’ which I could never have written ‘back there’ in the land where I lived before grief came along. I could never have written it because it would have been embarrassing and awkward. I would never have written it because it would have been untrue. Nonetheless, I write it now.

I am lonely.

"A 24-hour period passed where my only conversations were on the phone or with a cashier at the supermarket"

Married to Fiona for 30 years, and in love with her for longer than that, life without her by my side is shockingly different.

One day last week a 24-hour period passed where my only conversations were on the phone or with a cashier at the supermarket. Mine is by no means a unique experience, and I have endured it for a far shorter time than many. All the same, it is a shock to find that it is true.

For those who are scrolling for the comments box even as they read this, I wanted to write a message or two.

Firstly – thank you. Your kindness and warmth are a reflection of God’s image in the foxed mirror of humanity, and it is wonderful to see.

Secondly, please be assured that my loneliness is neither your problem nor your fault. You did not cause it and I do not count it as your duty to rectify it. Your attempts to distract me from it are always welcome, and the place in your heart from which they come is very dear.

Please don’t be surprised, though, if I do not always accept them. The reason for my refusal has everything to do with me and nothing to do with you.

Part of the collateral damage of bereavement is a wastage of the confidence muscle, if there is such a thing. That muscle which heaved body and soul up over the parapet of home has shrunk, you see. I look out over the threshold of home to a landscape filled with life, laughter, food, drink and conversation and I both move towards it and quail from it. I will learn, and the muscle will grow back, but it may take a little time.

Thirdly, please don’t let the sea-mist of sadness which sometimes rolls off me put you off from telling me about your life. I want to know. I want to hear the shrill sound of laughter and the clatter of ordinary dishes and the occasional curse! It reminds me that there is a life out there, beyond the mist – and I still belong to it.

I may be lonely, but you are never truly alone – and for that I am grateful.

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Richard Littledale

Husband of patient

Richard Littledale

Richard's wife Fiona was cared for by Sue Ryder Hospice at Home Nurses during the last few weeks of her life. Since then, he has been chronicling his journey through grief via his personal blog http://richardlittledale.me.uk.