Grieving Alone: How Grief & Solitude Can Help When Coping With Loss
Grief can be a lonely process, even when you’re surrounded by others.
A person may intentionally choose to grieve alone for any number of reasons — and all of them are valid to that individual.
It isn’t necessarily “bad” to go through grief alone and in fact, it can be a healthy way to process a loss if it’s what a grieving person needs to do for themselves and their emotional health — especially after the funeral is over.
At that point, you aren’t expected to be social and no longer feel the need to hold yourself together for the sake of those around you.
Being alone can feel like a welcome respite as you begin the grief-processing journey — even if you weren’t involved with making the funeral arrangements at all — and it’s a path many people choose for themselves, with good reason.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- Why People Isolate During Grief
- How To Deal With Grief Alone
Why Do People Isolate Themselves While Grieving?
Even if they don’t live alone, some people intentionally isolate themselves while grieving for many reasons.
A person might choose to face their grief alone because they:
- Don’t want to be an emotional burden to others
- Don’t feel like they have anyone they can talk to
- Fear crying or breaking down in front of others (or in public)
- Cannot shoulder the collective grief of those that surround them
- Feel like they’ve been grieving for “too long”
- Are struggling with anxiety or depression following their loss
- Worry they don’t feel like they’re “supposed to” about the loss
- Aren’t sure how they actually feel about the loss
- Don’t think others will understand or relate to what they’re experiencing
- Feel like most of their interactions with others are filled with superficial or “generic” condolences
- Have a disability that prevents them from going out into the world (particularly if the person they lost assisted with their mobility)
The death of a loved one is hard to face, no matter how strong we are emotionally.
But the experience can make us incredibly vulnerable just the same, and sometimes we feel like we’re better off going through it alone.
Is It Okay To Grieve Alone?
It is absolutely okay to process your grief alone in solitude if it is what you feel you need to do to heal through a loss.
In fact, one study found that most people engage in private rituals as they navigate grief and loss.
Private rituals, which vary widely by culture and religion, are shown to lower levels of grief and help people regain their feelings of control.
Everyone’s experience of grief is different.
As long as the time spent alone is not causing feelings of loneliness or harming your mental or emotional state, it can be healthy to grieve in solitude and turn inward for deep reflection if that’s what is best for you.
Should You Let Someone Grieve Alone?
There is no clear yes-or-no answer to this because a person may need to grieve in solitude to process their loss.
If someone you know is grieving and showing signs of complicated grief (also known as persistent complex bereavement disorder, e.g. ongoing heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing for more than a year) or loneliness, however, it may be time to intervene.
That said, it can be difficult to know when to reach out — or how.
A phone call to check in can create an opportunity to connect and make plans but it might be best to keep those plans very low-key.
Offer to spend time with the grieving person, even if it’s only to watch a movie or binge-watch a television show.
This type of activity reduces the need for conversation while providing a welcome distraction to the grieving person — you can simply be present, together, with no pressure to talk about the loss (or how they’re feeling) if they aren’t ready.
If they won’t answer the phone or text messages, pick up their favorite take-out meal and drop by — yes, unannounced.
Not only are you showing that they’re still in your thoughts, but it provides an opportunity to check on them physically to make sure they’re okay.
Although we’ll talk about the importance of self-care in just a bit, those who are grieving may neglect to eat due to appetite loss but cooking also takes energy they may not have.
By delivering food, you’re bringing sustenance while also performing a well-check — hitting two birds with one stone.
You can also offer to help with other things, like running errands, doing laundry, or even cleaning the house — all of which will provide low-pressure interaction with the grieving person.
If they are showing signs of depression, complicated grief, or suicidal ideation, there are resources available.
Dealing With Grief Alone
Grief is a journey that all of us — at some point in our lives — will experience.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong if you choose to deal with grief on your own; we all process it in our own ways.
That said, there are ways to handle grief alone:
- Accept your feelings — whatever they are
- Don’t be afraid to open up to others when you need to
- Turn to religion or spirituality if it suits you
- Go outdoors to connect with the universe
- Write a letter to the person you lost
- Seek support wherever feels best
- Don’t ignore self-care
- Don’t set a time limit for your grief
- Remember that people live on in memory
1. Accept That Your Feelings Are Valid
Time is a friend that allows you an opportunity to process your grief, but it’s also an insidious enemy because when left alone with your thoughts for too long, it’s easy to question your feelings about the loss you’re grieving.
Grief can be a complicated process, particularly if you’re not sure how to feel.
Yes, sadness is a “normal” way to feel about someone’s death but the truth is that it isn’t the only emotion you’re likely to experience.
If someone was terminally ill for months or years, you might feel relieved after their passing.
Likewise, if your relationship was difficult or you became estranged, you may not even be sure how to feel.
There is no “right” way to feel when you’re grieving, so give yourself the grace to experience your emotions — whatever they happen to be.
2. Don’t Be Afraid To Open Up
Many people choose to deal with their grief alone to avoid becoming a “burden” to others.
Although it’s true that some people simply aren’t sure what to say when you’re grieving, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be there for you.
You aren’t a burden if you need someone to talk to as you process your grief.
If you cannot reach out to family or friends — whether because you prefer not to or you don’t have anyone to talk to — you might consider speaking with a grief counselor or therapist.
3. Turn To Religion Or Spirituality
Death has a way of making us question everything we think we know about the afterlife and our place in the universe.
If you connect with a particular religion or a set of spiritual beliefs, you may find comfort in turning to them now.
You can talk to your priest, reverend, rabbi, imam, or another spiritual leader to seek guidance if you’re comfortable doing so, but even reading passages from religious or spiritual texts can provide much-needed solace.
Many people also light candles for those they love and have lost — a simple tradition and helpful ritual that signifies remembrance.
You can also do spiritual things that hold deep meaning to you — or the loved one you lost.
If they loved nature, for instance, consider planting a tree or creating a small memorial garden in your yard.
If they loved astronomy, you might name a star after them.
You may even want to adopt a pet if the person you’re grieving was an animal lover.
If you’re not sure where to start or what to do, write down a list of things your loved one enjoyed and then brainstorm ideas based on those.
You might be surprised by what you come up with.
4. Go Outdoors For A Sense Of Connection
Studies have shown that spending time outdoors can improve a person’s mood and mental health, but I’ve found that it’s especially helpful during the grieving process.
Without walls in the way, I just feel closer to the “beyond” — and those I’ve lost — when I’m outside in the open air, standing beneath the vast sky above.
I don’t necessarily think my loved ones are up there in any particular place, but I do feel that their energy is out there — somewhere in the universe.
I consider the human soul to be a type of energy; the first law of thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed — it can only change forms.
For this reason, I personally feel closest to those I’ve lost when I’m outdoors, feeling the brush of the wind against my face or while looking up at the stars.
5. Write A Letter To The Person You Lost
As a writer, this is a form of catharsis I’ve naturally turned to when processing my own grief, but it’s one that really works.
My brother would have turned 40 several years ago and on that milestone birthday, I wrote him a letter.
It wasn’t profound by any stretch of the imagination, but it allowed me to process my feelings and “talk” to him in a way that felt meaningful.
This type of activity might help you, too.
You can type it up on a computer if that’s easier, or write it out by hand on a sheet of paper (or even beautiful stationery) if you prefer.
As for its contents…those can be anything you’re thinking or feeling, and in any language.
Whatever you’d like to get off your chest and send to the person you’re grieving, write it down.
After you’ve finished your letter, there are a few things you might consider doing with it:
- Keep it in an envelope or journal so you can read it out loud in the future during meditation or prayer
- Bury it in the earth
- Burn it, with the smoke “sending” the message into the universe
Along these same lines, if your loved one’s cell phone number or social media account is still active, you may find comfort in sending text messages to them.
I know people who have done this — for months, in some cases — and that’s a similar form of catharsis that might help you to process your grief, as well.
6. Seek Support Wherever Is Most Comfortable
Grief support groups can be really helpful for some people — if they’re comfortable gathering with others in a public setting to talk openly about their loss.
I’ll be honest with you: I did not have the emotional fortitude for this, myself.
What I did find comfort in, however, were online support groups.
I found it much easier to talk to people through a screen because I could do so on my own terms — when (and for as long as) I needed to.
It was convenient because there was no travel involved (and no risk of crying while driving a car), but there is no set meeting time involved — an online forum or Facebook group is available 24/7.
What’s Your Grief is a great online resource to turn to if you’re grieving alone — offering helpful resources along with the ability to share your grief through photographs, six-word stories, recipes, or even secrets.
7. Don’t Ignore Vital Self-Care
You may not feel like eating, but your body needs you to.
You might not want to take a shower because you’re in a constant state of exhaustion and just don’t feel like you can muster the energy, but you should at least try.
I’m not here to tell you how to live your life, but self-care is absolutely vital when you’re grieving, perhaps more than ever.
By “self-care,” I don’t mean spa treatments or massages — although if that helps you feel better, by all means, you should do it.
But it’s the “little” forms of self-care that mean the most right now.
Your body needs nourishment to survive, so make sure you’re eating enough food each day — even if you don’t have much of an appetite.
Likewise, the water from a hot shower will clean your body but it also offers a form of physical refreshment that may help to improve your mood and emotional state.
While navigating grief, you need to take care of your body so your heart, mind, and soul can heal — and that starts with self-care.
8. Do Not Set A Time Limit On Your Grief
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from withstanding loss, it’s that grief isn’t a linear journey that will “end” on a specific date.
You won’t wake up one morning, six months after a loved one passes away, and suddenly be fine — like it never happened.
It doesn’t work like that, so don’t set a time limit for your grief.
You’ll feel it for as long as you feel it.
The grieving process is different for everyone and runs its course at its own speed for each individual.
I know people who spent literal decades processing their complicated grief, while others seemed to “bounce back” in just a year (or less) following the loss of a loved one.
Grief doesn’t have a time limit — so don’t expect it to, and don’t set one for yourself.
9. Remember That People Live On In Memory
Perhaps the biggest source of comfort I can offer is this: Those we have loved and lost will live on through the things we remember and the stories we share about them.
They may not be with us physically, but they’re never gone from memory.
Earnest Hemingway famously said, “Every man has two deaths, when he is buried in the ground and the last time someone says his name.”
You might find it difficult to talk about those you’re lost — especially if they’ve very recently passed on — but eventually, it may actually help to do so.
After my brother passed away, my gut instinct was to refrain from uttering his name in front of my mother, as though it would shatter her to pieces if I did.
As it turns out, it had the opposite effect — on both of us.
We’d bring him up in casual conversation at random times, remembering an amusing thing he did when he was a child or recalling something he loved (or hated) to do.
Almost like he was still here with us.
It made it easier for us to work through our shared loss — together.
Grief is rarely ever an easy thing to go through and although humans are social creatures who thrive on connection, you may need to spend some time alone to process your feelings after a significant loss.
It is okay — and can even be very healthy — to grieve alone as long as your solitude is helping you and not causing more pain or emotional turmoil.
If you begin experiencing signs of loneliness or complicated grief, however, it might be time to lean on a support system — your family, friends, or even a professional grief counselor.
You don’t have to go through it alone.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing series The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types that we might experience over the course of our lives.