A few days ago, I received a Facebook message from a man that had obviously read a post or two about grief and grieving...and being single. He was apologetic about reaching out to me and thought that his message might be an invasion. He was struggling with the loss of his son less than a year ago. He wanted to reach out and connect with someone but the grief felt overwhelming and too much. His question was basically, “What do you do when you are lonely, but feel completely unable to go through the motions to date, that you know you are not really relationship material right now, but the pain of your loss makes a poor companion. What do you do with yourself then?”
I gave his question some thought. I, admittedly, haven’t handled it well at all in my own life. I have done everything that this man has to out run grief and loss and sadness and heartbreak. I have tried to escape into others to distract me from my pain and emptiness. I have sought comfort in the arms of another. And found them unable to console me and, in fact, made me feel worse.
His question seemed to really ask "what do you do in the hang time between needing to be with someone and not being ready?"
I responded to him as follows:
“Thank you for reaching out. To be honest, I reviewed your profile before I accepted your request. I saw that you lost your son and his mother both. I am so very sorry for your losses. That seems like a lot to ask one person to bear. I can't fathom the grief that you are going through. I think it is absolutely fine to be lonely and feel alone. My experience is that grief is a solo experience. I think that is why so many marriages break up when they lose a child. Each person grieves in their own way, in their own time and sometimes the way someone grieves makes your own grieving too painful.
With regard to your question, I have faith that me being in charge of my love life has not yielded me the best results, so far. It is normal and healthy to want a partner and someone to share intimacy with...but whenever (and this is just for me) I am in charge of the looking, I tend to find. Not necessarily the right person or even a good person, I just find someone and then I allow myself to be distracted by them. It seems to me that you have been through a lot lately and that anyone you meet, might have a hard time understanding what you are going through.
Give yourself enough time and space to heal, you have been dealt the biggest blow one can get in this life. And it is going to take awhile to be ready to dedicate the time to a relationship. I say, give the time to yourself. When you are lonely or afraid or lost, reach out. Just like you did to me. Reach out to friends and family that love you. You said that you are a man of faith, turn towards God. Develop your relationship with God, take hikes with him, go to the beach with him. It always helps me to get lost in the woods for awhile with no one but my dog and God for company. It isn't strange to reach out at all. We need each other. We need to be seen, to share our love, our pain and our experiences. That is what it means to be human. Also, people reach out to me all the time 🙂. Be kind to you. You seem like a caring, loving man who is still reeling from the losses you have suffered. Give yourself the gift of time and grieve hard. Writing really helps too. There is healing to be had but in my experience it takes a lot of work and isn't all that much fun sometimes. But one day, almost without warning, you find yourself sitting in the sunlight and that which you thought might kill you, feels a little lighter. When you get there, throw your head back and smile! I wish you the best of all good things. Be gentle with yourself, you are trudging a very hard path.”
“Thank you Erin. I very much appreciate you taking the time to write so many heart felt thoughts and pouring so much into the the response that you gave me. I know it came from nowhere but I had to reach out to you after seeing your page. For some reason I felt that it was OK to ask you what you thought. I'm sure I'll be reading through this again later today. I'm gonna do my best to stay grounded and take each take each moment as it comes And I'm sure when the time is right I'll know that I can handle a relationship and be able to give the person what they deserve as well. Thank you again..I like who you are. I find it easier sometimes to talk to somebody you may not know as opposed to somebody who you have a history with. All my love, Mr. X.” (I gave him the Mr. X title, as I promised him that I would keep his part in this blog anonymous.)
“You are most welcome. As I told someone else this morning, you cannot figure out grief. You just have to let it almost kill you and then your life begins again..." Hang in there. Happy to be a life line!”
And with that we both moved on with our respective lives.
And I pray each of us for the better. I think that is what is best done with hang time, reach out, but not too much, reach inward but only so far as the blinding pain will allow. And when you can’t take one more minute of yourself being alone with yourself, invite someone else into your hang time. Even if they are a perfect stranger.
I am honored that I was able to be there for him in some small way. That whatever craziness I have put onto the screen was relatable to him. That he felt moved to get out of his own way, and write to me and connect. I am humbled.
I really have no answers, just lots and lots of questions. But I can respond. I can do my best to provide a loving response to a fellow traveler on the path, one who is suffering mightily. I can do that.
And that, to me, is what is best done with hang time, that time that exists between what your life was and what it will be again when you have the courage required to live it again. It is so hard to be still living life when one you loved does not. How to recover and heal when it feels like the pain is unending and unstoppable. Hang time is there to allow you to sort of meander through life, feeling everything and nothing at all, at the same time. Hang time allows you to continue to live, but in a somewhat disconnected, sleepwalking state, between the life you loved and lived and the new one that you are absolutely not sure what to do with...this is the time to do anything different. Reach out to a blogger you have never met, walk aimlessly for hours in the woods, vacation to places where the life you lived has no memories. It is hard to go on when your life is still your own, but you are alone to live it. And the person most worth your presence in this life, gone.
We all look for substitutes. Stand ins to play a part or distract us from the pain of our current lives. It is normal yet, unlikely to work. I have tried. To replace a person with another person. And all I accomplished was making myself and now another person feel worse. I didn’t mean to or intend to, but it cannot be otherwise. Hearts take time to heal and some breaks can never be fully mended. So you have to figure out a path forward with that part of you missing, that part irreplaceable. You forge forward anyway, even when you don’t want to or just can’t fathom how there will ever be a day again that is filled with laughter, happiness and joy.
Grief is a gift that feels like punishment. And for me, it wasn’t until I realized how very much there is to be learned in the loss that I became willing to embrace the hard feelings that I felt there...and allow my hang time to just hang. It felt like I would never be the same, and I was right, I could become better. And so I did...but it took a long time, a lot of time spent hanging in between the life I loved and the life waiting to be lived...