Millions of people in the UK report often or always feeling lonely. During Loneliness Awareness Week 2021 our blog looks at the links between bereavement and loneliness and offers some tips for coping.
Loneliness and grief
In recent years we’ve become more aware of the problems of loneliness in our society. The Campaign to End Loneliness has reported that there are nine million lonely people in the UK and four million of them are older. In total nearly half of adults in England feel lonely at least some of the time.
Bereavement is one of the main causes of loneliness. The pain of grief when someone dies includes missing that person’s presence in your life. But when someone dies other factors also come into play which can contribute to loneliness.
Death of a partner
If you have lost a partner or someone you lived with you may find yourself living alone, perhaps for the first time. Even if you have many other friends and family you may miss someone just being around – people often say ‘I miss someone to do nothing with.’
Loss of connections
When someone dies you can also lose connections with the people who they knew through them. Sometimes one half of a couple has been responsible for arranging a shared social life.
Lack of invitations
Sometimes invitations can dry up after a bereavement. You might find that after a year (sometimes sooner) support and sympathy can seem to run out. You can feel like those around you are expecting you to be over it, and stop making a special effort. You can also start to feel awkward or left out if a lot of your socialising was as a couple before.
It is a sad fact that people do lose friends when someone dies. Some people can’t cope, or maybe just don’t know how to reach out. People crossing the road to avoid someone who is grieving, is not just a cliché, our volunteers often hear about experiences like this.
If you were caring for someone
If you were caring for the person who died you may also have had to miss out on your usual activities and gatherings for a while. Anticipatory grief can be a lonely experience in itself, but when the caring role ends it can also leave a big gap, with many hours to fill where previously you were caring.
If your own health is not great or you have a disability this can put other barriers in the way of connecting with others. Sometimes someone dying affects income, benefits and financial arrangements. This can make it harder to take part in social activities.
Even if none of the above apply it’s still possible to be lonely. You can feel lonely in the midst of others if you feel there is a connection or understanding that’s missing. It can feel like a very lonely experience when someone dies in a way that others around you haven’t experienced, for example in traumatic circumstances or as a result of suicide. Or if you are younger, others around you may be less likely to have had someone very close to them die, and might not be able to fully understand what you are going through.
What does loneliness feel like?
Loneliness is the feeling we get when our need to be with and contact other people is not met. It's a longing for rewarding and meaningful relationships with others.
There is a difference between being alone and feeling lonely. It’s possible to feel perfectly content on your own. And you also don’t have to be alone to feel lonely.
If loneliness lasts for some time it can have a serious effect on your confidence and self worth. Well-meaning advice about joining clubs and reaching out can feel like an impossible step if you feel like you have forgotten how to relate to others.
Loneliness is also often linked to anxiety and depression. If you are feeling very low and struggling to find meaning in anything then it may be time to reach for help.
If you are struggling with grief and need someone to talk to Cruse can help.
If you need to talk to others who have been through similar experiences there are many organisations linked to different causes who might be able to put you in touch. Some of our local Cruse branches also run support groups, get in touch to find out if there is something suitable in your area.
The Campaign to End Loneliness has lots of advice and suggestions about what you can do to help with loneliness. There are also suggestions and links to organisations who can help on the Let’s Talk Loneliness website.
If you are feeling lonely know that there are people out there who understand how you feel. It can take courage, but if you start with small steps to reach out to others they can add up to a big change in how you feel.