I’ve been mulling over the idea that no one is alone. It’s a belief I aspire to, but not a truth I can recognize in the context of my every day life. With 2 children, a husband, a father, 5 brothers and sisters, friends, and an extended network of family, my support system seems like an embarrassment of riches, yet all too often I feel like I’m on a team of one.
(Quick note before my family and friends think I take them all for granted; I love you, you’re awesome, and I appreciate you.)
The paradox of my loneliness first occurred to me while watching Disney’s Into the Woods; because clearly nothing is exempt from my tiring scrutiny. There is a beautiful song towards the end called ‘No One Is Alone’, which I’ve heard many times but on this day it really moved me. Sitting in a movie theater with 8 family members I felt the truth of what they we’re saying, yet I realized that other times I feel it’s true for everyone but me.
So what’s wrong with me? Never mind, don’t answer that.
I surmise I sometimes feel alone due to a combination of factors – personality; fear of misplaced reliance; ignorance of what it means to truly have no one; a high tolerance for alone time; my dead mother. Sorry to be so blunt about that last one, maybe if I explain the song further you’ll understand.
The song is sung by two adults and two children who are essentially strangers brought together by calamatous circumstances. All four have just experienced loss and the adults step up to support the children. Here is a semi-bootleg video of the song where the words don’t quite match their lips and the dialogue is missing, but the lyrics are clear:
And here are a few of the lyrics:
“Mother cannot guide you.
Now you’re on your own.
Only me beside you.
Still, you’re not alone.”
“Sometimes people leave you.
Halfway through the wood.
Others may deceive you.
You decide what’s good.
You decide alone.
But no one is alone.”
“Mother isn’t here now
Who knows what she’d say
Nothings quite so clear now.
Feel you’ve lost your way?”
“Hard to see the light now.
Just don’t let it go
Things will come out right now.
We can make it so.
Someone is on your side.
No one is alone.”
We recently wrote a post specifically about grief and loneliness and in it we detailed some of the reasons why people feel lonely and isolated after the death of a loved one. Many of these reasons add up to the basic thought that, although you may be surrounded by people, you feel alone because the person you want to be with or who you want to fill a need or role is gone.
What we know is that being lonely is not synonymous with being alone. In fact many lonely people have large social networks comprised of family, friends, and other connections; yet they feel lonely and isolated because of a perception that the relationships they have don’t meet their social needs. So in other words, what they have doesn’t add up to what they want.
It makes sense that feelings of loneliness are especially pronounced after a close loved one dies. Like a distraught child who’s skinned his knee and will allow only his mother to soothe him; some grievers feel they can find no comfort in anyone but the person who has died. From the initial stab of knowing your loved one’s specific kind of love is gone to the prolonged and nagging ache of their absence; there is an abiding belief that the roles the deceased held – wife, best friend, joke teller, bill payer, cook, confidant, role model – can never be filled and will forever leave a vacancy open in your life.
I think composer Steven Sondheim wrote the above lyrics to try and soothe this type of fear, hopelessness, loneliness and sense of abandonment. In the story it was the children’s grief after having both lost their mothers, but it applies to all those who have lost a loved one. True, your loved one is no longer here with you and you have to figure out a way to go on without them; but this doesn’t mean you will forever be empty, lost and alone. Yes there’s a hole in your heart and an emptiness in your life, but maybe there are people who will come together to try and mend it if you let them.
For myself, I’ll admit I haven’t lived by this. It sounds hokey, but it was at the exact moment I described in that movie theater that I decided I should. I’ve blindly protected the place my mother held in my life and I’ve insisted on staying so loyal to her that I know I’ve ignored many opportunities for connection, love, support, reliance, counsel and confidence simply because they didn’t come from her. With all the wonderful people in my life, many of them wonderful mothers themselves, this is a mistake.
Now Into the Woods is is just a story and in reality it may take a long time for us grievers to contradict thoughts like – no one will ever make me feel the way my loved one did; they left me alone; and now I have to handle things on my own. Not to mention there truly are people with very limited support networks and sometimes grief makes otherwise good family and friends run away. But there is merit in at least believing in the idea that we are not alone, so when opportunities for love, support and connection present themselves our hearts and minds are ready and willing to receive them.
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