The Griefs and Gifts of Being Alone

Family-oriented holidays are difficult times for people who are alone.  Anyone who has lost a close family member or a dear friend knows how hard the first holidays are without that person’s presence.  Fortunately, most people have other family members to help them through those times of remembering and grieving.

People who are now single through death or divorce, but who have children and grandchildren, still have family and a strong connection to coming generations.  But that connection is much weaker for those who are widowed or divorced and childless, and those who have never married.  People who don’t have close family members to be with in those times of loss carry an extra burden of grief.

This came home to me with special poignance recently, when an older friend died.  She and her family had generously shared many special holiday times with me.  Of all the friends we had in common, I’m the only one who has no children and grandchildren.  Our friends’ primary relationships are with their families.  My primary relationships are with my friends.  The loss of such a close friend is hard.

For those who are alone, daily life is quite different from the lives of people with family.  We have work to do and friends to see, but many of our hours are passed in silence.  No one shares the burdens and tasks of everyday life; if we don’t cook or clean or shop or pay bills, it doesn’t get done.

We may have learned how to be alone without being lonely, but we still can feel the lack of intimate companionship.  We feel the lack of physical touch, and the lack of the warmth of another presence in our lives.  If we are sick, there is no one to bring us a glass of water or take us to the doctor.  If we are unhappy, there is no one to share our thoughts or cheer us up.  If we are joyful, there is no one to laugh with us.

The blessing in being alone is the room it can make for God.  In stillness, the presence of God is easier to feel.  People with families may have to work much harder than we do to find that stillness.  When there is no human person to share joys and sorrows, it can become very natural and simple to share them openly with God.  God is with us all, all of the time, but it may be easier for those who are alone to be conscious of that presence.

What we need in our aloneness is complex and difficult to define.  Some of us need support and encouragement in dealing with health problems or the burdens of financial problems or even poverty, problems that are especially hard for people without families.  Some of us need fellowship in doing things that people with partners take for granted – going to movies and concerts, eating out, social gatherings, hiking in the woods.

Some of us are hungry for spiritual growth in directions that are more difficult for persons with family responsibilities to take.  We may not be as interested in building intimate relationships with human beings as we are in building intimate relationships with God.

When we find one another, we are blessed by a feeling that we are not so peculiar, after all.  When we find one another, we have a lot to share.  We need better ways to find one another.

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