Alone in grief – finding peace in our inner spaces

A reflection on finding peace in the inner spaces of our mind whilst we grieve.

Inner spaces. We each have our own.

It is within our inner spaces that we experience the “aloneness of grief” rather than “loneliness”, as you can be alone and lonely, but you can also be alone and glad to be in solitude. I think most of the bereaved experience both at times. (Loneliness is a topic of another post.)

Nobody can quite understand our feelings. Each of us has unique life experiences, characters, genes, and our loved ones were unique too. So although we might relate to others who have had similar bereavements and losses, no one goes through something identical.

We all cope differently too. We might seek solitude. We might seek company and not find it, which will make us lonely, or we might find company but still feel alone in the crowd.

There’s a place that we each have inside of ourselves, that hidden interior, that nobody else can enter. We may weep on someone’s shoulder, unburden ourselves in words or art, but there are always thoughts, feelings and memories that are our own, only for ourselves.

And in that quiet place inhabited by ourselves alone, we experience the deepest of our emotions. It goes beyond words. We may feel such a depth of pain, fear and sorrow, although we also experience joy, hope and love. It is a place of unspoken dreams and of the essence of memories, as the clear images and sounds of a loved one or a place are starting to fade.

Alone in a CT scanner

I suppose it’s the same aloneness as lying motionless on a hospital bed, waiting for the anaesthetic to take effect prior to surgery or waiting at the exit door to this life. There may be people around, but we are alone in our thoughts.

This was my experience yesterday as I lay motionless in the CT scanner at our local hospital. It’s been 4 years since I had kidney cancer – treated  by surgery – and this was my annual scan to check that there has been no spread or recurrence. It’s a strange feeling – unfortunately one I am quite familiar with – to be lying on my back looking up at the bright lights of the hospital room ceiling.

This scanner is like a tube with an opening at either end. I lay on the table. A canula is in my arm. My arms are above my head. I close my eyes. The radiographer leaves to sit in the adjacent room. There is a glass wall between us. There are speakers, so she can talk to me, and a microphone, so she can hear me. There is no possibility of external distraction. No opportunity to read a book or do a quick check of my messages on the phone. Just silence, stillness.

The scanner tube moves over me. There are little whirrs and clicks. “Hold your breath” says a disembodied voice. The tube moves. “Now breath normally.” The radiographer warns me that the contrast fluid will now enter my body through the canula on my arm. I don’t like the fluid. It creates a strange hot sensation that travels quickly down through the body. It makes me feel a bit sick but I’ve had it before without any bad reaction, so I’m not too worried.

There is more breath holding and more lying still. And in that stillness, I am alone with my thoughts. I imagine Pax – now a strapping young man, not the little 3 year old who died in 1982 – and Catherine – standing around me in the room. It is a comforting thought.

The inner space

Our inner space is where we are alone in our thoughts. Nobody hears them. Nobody witnesses them. It’s a place where we might discover our true faith – if we seek a spiritual path. A place of prayer without words.

It’s a place where we are sincere, with no mask or pretence or covering.

It’s a place where our thoughts might suddenly become clear, or there may be no thoughts at all, just impressions.

And because of this private, inner place we inhabit, no matter who we have or don’t have around us, at a certain level we are all alone in our grief.

If we have friends, a partner, and/or a close supportive family, it can certainly help us on the path of grief, as to an extent we will mourn together. A bit like a friendly arm that reaches out to support us as we get back on our feet after an illness or accident. (Or the radiographer who kindly helped me down from the table once the scan was finished.)

On the other hand, disappointment about those who don’t support us, who aren’t on the phone when we need them, makes grief harder to bear. It’s also tough when we need to put on a brave face for the sake of those around us.

But at the end of the day, no matter our circumstances, there is a place where we are each alone in our grief.

Finding some peace

Our inner space can be in great turmoil following our profound loss, and we might be reluctant to enter it. We might seek distractions, afraid to be alone with our troubled thoughts. Ultimately though, in order to manage our grief and carry on living, we’ll need to be able to find some peace in that space.

That requires taking the time to enter it. Learning to ‘be’ in our thoughts – not in a dark, or negative ruminative way, but to find good things in that space.

For some this means turning towards faith. Personally I have found meditative Christian songs extremely helpful, such as the songs of Taize or the beautiful Odes.

Poetry – reading it, writing it – can also be a means of filling the space with beauty.

For many of us, it’s nature that brings peace to our inner space, as expressed in this beautiful text:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar:
I love not Man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.

― Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Research has shown that those who are able to reflect on good memories are often more resilient in coping with their grief – so thinking about our loved ones can also be a source of peace – although not always.

Each of us who are grieving need to seek our own peace. Let’s try to fill that inner place with love, with good memories, with hope, so that our sorrows will become bearable, and we will live on.

P.S. I’ll post a quick update when I get the results of my scan. 


A canoeist making the most of this peaceful space on a Loch in Scotland

Our inner space can be in great turmoil following our profound loss, and we might be reluctant to enter it. We might seek distractions, afraid to be alone with our troubled thoughts. Ultimately though, in order to manage our grief and carry on living, we’ll need to be able to find some peace in that space.


One thought on “Alone in grief – finding peace in our inner spaces

  1. Pingback: Solitude in grief | A Valley Journal

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