Lonely Business


In conversation with a friend at church, we dove into the deep end.  The topic started with my biweekly submissions to the Cricket.  We went right past the weather, election, and extraordinary warmth for November… and ended up at the place of pain, being that we both are far too well acquainted with it.  I heard myself saying, “this is lonely business.”  He jumped on that and suggested I “write about that.”

We all cope with so many things that others often never see or know.  We hold some of these most personal and painful realities of our lives very close to our chest.  We all have them.  They look different.  They have varying levels of demand and cause wide arrays of chaos in the real world, in our hearts, or both.

Finding others who can relate has made a difference in my experience.

It might be a different situation than mine.  Still, those who feel isolated and protective of their particulars but have managed chronic disappointment and perhaps despair have often done it alone.  It takes courage, lots of courage, to dare and be vulnerable, to dare and speak of the load we carry.  That leap of faith, if you dare to reveal it, can uncover some kinship we didn’t even know we needed.

My ongoing wound is that of a family member's prolonged and chronic mental illness.

Ten years of every conceivable intervention, and today we are still fighting the uphill battle, sometimes on the surface of rock where you can get a foothold, and sometimes on the ice where all we do is slide backward toward another fall.  Someone in similar circumstances said to me recently, “all I want is for it to stop being so painful.”  I have been in that place and understand the angst and longing.  I am guessing that more of us know that feeling than would readily admit it.

Fixes for some things are not easy, readily available, or even possible.  Our great challenge is what to do, what we think, and how we feel.  Whether the issue is with a loved one or ourselves, the way out is often laden with obstacles, burnout, exhaustion, and hopelessness.

The first time I met others in a similar situation, the relief I felt was profound.

The isolation of it all was crippling.  It’s very hard, near impossible, to expect others to be able to relate to what may be extreme dynamics if they have not experienced them.  Intellectually, we can relate and empathize, but to be able to connect on a deeper level and take the chance to reveal what we are suffering with may be what saves us.

Imagine in your own life when someone has said to you, “I totally get it.”  Maybe it was as you coped with the grief of losing a parent.  Most of us of a certain age have crossed that bridge.  Some losses are hard, and some are excruciating.  If you were in the latter camp like I was, finding true companionship on that journey was pivotal.

As a former Nursing Administrator at Hospice of the North Shore (now Care Dimensions), I taught grief workshops, added to that 25 more years of hospice and end-of-life work… you guessed it.  I knew what there was to know about healing from loss.  I “got” the grieving process.

Guess what else?  I did it for others, but not for me.  Joining a specialized grief group, mothers who have lost daughters, was central to my recovery.  It made all the difference that the community who understood my pain had their own and could deeply understand my experiences.

Giving voice to our experience in careful and safe settings is something to consider.

The “knowing” of another who sees your pain and can truly empathize as they understand that language is a gift.  This writing came from the statement “lonely business.”  The heavier the social taboo and whatever shame we imagine is attached to our circumstances complicates our ability to share.  When we find that our neighbor is feeling similar isolation, the pain can sometimes be dispersed, even a tad.

It can be all too much to cope with alone.  Reach out and take a careful chance.  Research a group that may hold your situation in confidence and treats it as it is: a sacred experience.  Tender, deep emotion must be held gently.  Many have a profoundly fragile reality that they are coping with, day in and day out.

If we are a gift to each other, can hold pain for each other, reduce and dispel isolation, and convert it to even a community of two, we may halve the pain.  My conversation in church moved me deeply enough to commit to this piece and put myself “out there.”

Don’t suffer in silence; find the right listener.  It could make all the difference.

seniors, lonely, expert help