Weathering Loneliness and Grief

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

I've been a widow for eight-and-a-half years. I midwifed the deaths of my husband and my mom in the same year, so I have experience living with loneliness and grief. But I can say honestly that I've never experienced the kind of lows of the past week. I felt the darkness coming beforehand--I'm intuitive--and often, I get some sense of what's coming my way. Sometimes I can use that wordless warning to prepare myself. Sometimes not. This time, I wasn't successful.

After The Guy, his dog, and the horses pulled out a week ago, headed north, I found myself in tears all the time. Normally, I'm resilient and able to maintain a positive attitude. Not last week. Reading the news, responding to emails and texts from friends and family, learning of people I knew infected with COVID-19, an elderly friend dead from the virus--everything set me off. 

It's not that I was alone. I'm an introvert, so solo time is actually soothing for me. As I wrote in my forthcoming memoir, Bless the Birds: Living With Love in a Time of Dying:

As an introvert living in a body studded with what feels like hundreds of tiny antennae, I am easily overwhelmed by the stimuli of my fellow humans: our voices and words, the noise of our devices, our volatile emotions, and the electricity of our metabolic energy.

No, what had me in tears was simply the overload. I feel the world so strongly: emotions and other sensory information come to me as physical sensations. My body feels battered. That way of sensing the world is very much a gift, leading to rich understanding of humans and our ways, sometimes difficult premonitions, and other kinds of learning.

But it comes at a heavy cost. If the emotional and sensory stimuli build up within me, they’re literally toxic, causing what might be diagnosed as anxiety, but what I experience as acceleration of my heart-rate, erratic nervous system and electrical pulses, and general disruptions to my inner stability. Those symptoms overload my immune system, causing the potentially deadly organ impairment of my Lupus and other autoimmune conditions.

Trying to listen and be empathetic without allowing each day's swirling whirlwind of stimuli to become toxic has always been a challenge. It's even more so now--not just for me, for all of us.

Normally, I manage by writing, spending a lot time by myself or in the company of a very few others, and being physically active outside: walking, hiking, digging invasive weeds, renovating houses, or riding. And also--and this last is critical--by touch. I am a "touchy-feely" person: I hug others; I hold hands, kiss cheeks.

I depend on the balm of that physical contact. When I am frazzled and struggling to keep my emotional and mental balance, the warmth of another's hand, the press of a dog's muzzle on my leg, or the soothing rhythm of a horse's muscles invariably help me settle. Touch with other mammals is grounding. I can feel my systems stabilizing and harmonizing with theirs. 

We talk about “gentling” horses or dogs--and even people--with touch. Research supports the soothing and calming effect of physical touch on our emotions, our metabolisms, and our overall health, body, mind, and spirit.

Before The Guy, his dog, and the horses came into my life last fall, I met my need for that sort of "therapeutic touch" by interacting with my close circle of friends, my family, and their four-legged companions. Plus regular massages and monthly sessions from my Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Ehrland Truitt, who can feel how my body's systems are working simply by "listening" with his intuitive and sensitive touch. 

In close touch with family: on the water with two of my smart, generous, and beautiful nieces, Sienna Bryant and Heather Roland.

Now, in this era of adhering to social-distancing and shelter-in-place as critical ways to control the spread of Coronavirus, I am truly alone. I cannot hug my friends, or even shake hands with the tire guys who dealt with my flat tire yesterday. I have no dog to snuggle with when I'm blue. I am profoundly alone, and after only one week, starved for physical touch. I've struggled to maintain my emotional and mental balance. 

I realize that I am fortunate to be healthy (in my own slightly impaired way!) and not isolated or dying in a hospital or nursing home, and to have a safe and comfortable place to live. I am grateful for the daily contact-at-a-distance with friends, family, and The Guy. I'm grateful, too, for all of those who are working every day to make sure the rest of us are safe, meeting our essential needs for food and other services, and heroically tending to the sick and dying. 

I will survive this time of profound loneliness, this cell-deep grief about what is happening with us humans and this Earth, the blue planet we call home. And I can't wait until I can hug someone in gratitude for the gift of simply being here, now. 

Be well, my friends!