I remember what it felt like in my home when all the kids had left and my mother who had lived with us for years had died. The large five-bedroom house, once filled with chatter and activity, was so quiet it seemed haunting.
I believe people who are lonely face the silence every day. Sometimes that silence is about a lack of social connections, and sometimes it is about loss and yearning for a person or people who are no longer there.
Anyone who has ever felt lonely knows it is possible to feel that way even in a room full of people. It is an inner feeling that overshadows all experiences.
I saw my mother struggle with loneliness in her later years. She had outlived my father, most of her friends and all but one of her sisters, who lived far away. Her happiest days and her memories of her beloved husband and their full life together were behind her.
While she was fundamentally happy with us, there was a void in her life that none of us could fill.
Older people are most prone to loneliness. Sometimes, like my mother, they have outlived their loved ones and there is no one to turn to and say, “Remember when …?”
New retirees sometimes face loneliness as well. Having left behind a job that gave them a purpose, they often struggle to find new meaning and a new identity. Sometimes they feel alone in that search.
“Where do I fit now?,” a client once asked me. She had retired from a corporate job and downsized to another state. “I don’t know what ‘home’ is any more,” she said.
To her, “home” was where family and friends had been welcomed and memories had been made and shared.
Transitions in life often bring about a sense of loneliness. Divorce, physical limitations or shyness can cause a person to feel painfully alone.
All of us feel lonely sometimes. It can be a signal that something is off as far as our connections to other people or to our own hopes and dreams.
Group therapy can be a good way of reducing isolation and loneliness. Therapy groups are often composed of people who are in transition and who are looking for others to connect with.
If you are feeling lonely, try asking yourself if your loneliness is caused by a lack of social connection, or if it is the result of a loss.
Identifying the cause is the first step. My mother’s loneliness was due to loss. There were times when she seemed far away, as if her heart was saying, “I still miss you.”
Mary Bieda, MS, LPC is a licensed professional counselor and pastoral counselor in private practice in Old Town Bluffton.