Remember the Loch Ness Monster? The mysterious creature with the long neck protruding up out of the water? No one ever actually saw the monster and it was discovered that the grainy, black and white photograph of it was a hoax.
Well, there is another monster that you cannot see, one that is just as mysterious as the Loch Ness Monster, but more frightening and real.
We widowed people know this monster very well. It antagonizes you 24/7 but is even worse at night. It is in the quiet hours, when your mind is at rest, that this monster is most active and on the prowl. It infiltrates the dark corners of your mind with thoughts you cannot escape while you are lying in bed alone.
This monster has a name, too. It is called the Loneliness Monster, and it is a beast.
Coping with loneliness is the hardest part of being widowed. The moment-to-moment loneliness of no longer having someone to share the details of life with can leave you without a sense of direction or purpose at a time when you need it most. Even Mother Teresa pointed out that loneliness is the biggest hurt, not illness.
It is by far the worst thing about losing a spouse or partner, but it’s not the only thing.
When you lose the love of your life, you not only lose a romantic partner, but also a friend, who hangs out with you, a confidant that you share life experiences with, and the main person who makes you feel special, important, and unconditionally loved on a daily basis. You don’t realize how lonely you are until it’s the end of the day and you have a bunch of things to talk about, but no one to tell them to.
It can be scary and overwhelming to think of the future without the person you were supposed to spend the rest of your life with. Coping with these profound thoughts leave you feeling sad, hopeless, and fearful, and you wonder if you will ever be truly happy again.
But the Loneliness Monster doesn’t care about all that. Its job is to remind you, in every way possible, that you are alone – right here, right now – and that your life will never be the same. The monster creeps up on you and uses all sorts of ways to alienate you and keep you feeling forgotten and excluded.
“It antagonizes you 24/7 but is even worse at night.”
For instance, there are days when you notice that your phone hasn’t rung once all day, nor has there been a knock at your door with someone stopping by to pay you a visit. Weeks turn into months, and not one person decides to drop by to do a wellness check on you. Social invitations dry up and key friends lose contact with you, especially if these friends are part of a couple.
Friends and family members who were there during happier times have now nonchalantly, and some even brazenly, walked out of your life without a second thought. People continue to move on with their lives.
And because grief makes people so uncomfortable, they give you your space – and lots of it – until you return to your old self again. Naively thinking that waiting out your grief from a distance makes more sense than reaching out. Truth is, society doesn’t do well with grief, especially long-term grief. People want a quick fix for problems, and the grief of losing a spouse doesn’t fit neatly into that category.
After a while, people forget you ever even lost the best part of you.
But the Loneliness Monster never forgets, and it won’t let you forget either.
It reminds you, day after day, night after night. Like when you find yourself driving home late from work or school, and out of habit you reach over to pick up your phone to make a check-in call to your spouse. Something you have done countless times before. But then you immediately remember there is no spouse to call. No one on the other end to answer the phone no matter what time it is. No one for you to check in with simply because you know they care about your whereabouts.
You put the phone down and proceed to have a meltdown while driving. All you can do is pull over to keep from crashing.
You realize your whole sense of security and well-being is gone – it’s just as forever gone as they are.
The Loneliness Monster smiles with glee at the thought of you being so isolated and alone.
And then there are the clothes in the closet that remain untouched day in and day out. Yet another reminder of your aloneness, as well as the fact that you haven’t marked “get rid of clothes” off your to-do list. How can you? The thought of it is just too unbearable.
Some days you feel like a loose piece of thread hanging from one of those sweaters in the closet that if someone just so happened to tug on, you would come completely unraveled, just entirely undone, and wind up in one big messy ball on the floor.
That is what the Loneliness Monster does to you. It makes every day feel like you are at your wits end because the void of losing someone so vital to you takes such a toll. It takes everything that is within you to pick yourself up, pull yourself together, and get through each day by yourself.
And if that wasn’t enough, out of the blue, you may even have strange thoughts about what it might be like for inmates when they endure days, weeks, months, and sometimes years without physical contact from another human being. You think about how your life is just as devoid of human touch as theirs, and how depressing it is to realize that you have that in common.
“But the Loneliness Monster always remembers. It never forgets, and it won’t let you forget either.”
The Loneliness Monster smiles with glee at the thought of you being so isolated and excluded.
There are moments when the Loneliness Monster is most egregious, like when the quietness in the house is so palpable, that it engulfs you as if you are drowning. It dawns on you that you haven’t heard anybody’s voice in the house except yours in a long time and it’s enough to drive you crazy. You think about how the silence of loneliness is deafening, and how the oxymoron of that describes your life so perfectly now.
Everything about your life without your person feels like a paradox of confusion that you must wade through on a regular basis. Everything becomes too much, and nothing makes sense anymore.
Sometimes you feel powerless to stop the Loneliness Monster from taking over your life. You don’t want to be a recluse, but the disabling grief caused by the devastation of losing a spouse is ever present. Just as night follows day, the hurt and loneliness is very real and it’s constant. It never leaves you.
Not only is the Loneliness Monster relentless, but it’s also tricky. It plays games with your confidence and self-esteem. It devours you from the inside, even when you’re in a crowd of people. You feel lost and out of place in this big world of human beings all by yourself after being tethered to someone for so long. You are no longer part of that married couple that once was, and that scares you to death.
You think, “My God, how long will this go on?” You are surprised and dismayed when you awaken to a long period of loneliness that grows worse before it gets better.
Still, throughout it all, you can’t help but wonder how you have experienced one of life’s toughest challenges and survived.
Facing the future without someone you love can be terrifying, especially if you have never lived alone. The pain that comes with experiencing loneliness after the death of your spouse will linger for the rest of your life, but it will soften. Eventually, there will come a time when you learn to live life again, on your own terms, and you will have slayed the Loneliness Monster once and for all.
Until then, stay hopeful.
PS: This being the month of Halloween and all things frightening, I figured this post would be very fitting.
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