There are just some places only you can go. My experience with the parts of my path where I am utterly alone is that it can be a place of great healing and great pain, sometimes at the same time.

Benjamin SolitudeThere are other times when it can be solely the pure pain of vacuous isolation. And still other times when in my aloneness I feel the deep warmth of experiencing the connectedness with life that knows no boundary.

At times, the pain of isolating aloneness has reached the point of being unbearable. I wander into a part of my Afterloss and feel the anguish of separation. No one can find me and I, at that moment, can’t find a way out. I am depleted emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually. I am both done and undone.

At first, this experience of separation scared me. My first thought was would I ever find my way out of here? I could be in a crowded room, at work, on the street, and I couldn’t reach another. I could be in conversation with someone and feel so completely isolated and set apart from life. This isolation could overtake me anywhere, anytime. The fright of feeling it would never end was only equaled by the fright of not know when it would begin.

Human beings, by our very nature, are communal creatures. We are not born to live in complete solitude. The greatest punishment in our prison system is solitary confinement.

In this isolating aloneness that is an inescapable component of loss I found one essential element:

It did not last forever.

Yes, it came with out warning and I learned to accept it like the rolling in of the dense fog on the California coast. But it did not last forever. As I grew to accept the enormity of the pain and lean into my deepest sorrow, the density of my separation subsided.

On my many occasions I needed to live my way through the isolating pain of aloneness to find myself in the healing connectedness I experienced in being alone. I didn’t have to go through that torturous process every time I ventured alone in my Afterloss, but when I did find myself there I would not rest in that separation until I reached the part of being alone that nurtured and healed that part of me.

The moment of Matt’s death, in his last exhalation, was the most difficult moment of my life. Nothing could ever equal the agony of that moment. He died at home in my arms. We were alone, but we were far from alone.

Matt’s body stayed the night in our home as family and friends came in their aloneness to say goodbye. This went on for the next day. That evening the funeral director entered our home. She put Matt’s body in the back of her Suburban and we drove fifty miles outside of Dallas to a particular funeral home that was willing to honor my request. It was the only facility that would let me place my child’s body in the crematorium myself.

I was his father. I loved and cared for him all of his thirteen years of life. I needed to love and care for him in death. I held his empty, emaciated body for the last time as I laid it down for its transition from flesh into ash. Although this kind funeral director was in the room, it was not him who stood beside me. I was not alone in my aloneness.

It was late at night when I sat down in the driver’s seat with a cardboard box filled with ash sitting next to me. The highway back to Dallas was as empty as me. I was alone in my aloneness.

The one person I yearned to enter this state of isolating aloneness more than any other was Lydia, the mother of our child. Only Lydia could understand. Only Lydia could ever come close to knowing the pain. Only Lydia could penetrate the deafening silence of my sorrow.

As I drove back in isolating aloneness and the lights of the Dallas skyline marked the distance of my emptiness, I leaned into that place that only I could enter. Even if I could have heard Lydia’s soothing voice or fall into her arms, I would have still had to enter the expanse of my aloneness alone.

It was over. Everything I held dear was no longer there to hold. Thirteen years. Three deaths. One left behind.

The road before me took me back to Dallas that night. But it was that night where the road within me took me into the unfolding of my Afterloss. A peace came over me in that drive home. I don’t know how, or even when, but as I entered the part of the Afterloss that only I could go in that isolating aloneness I found myself coming to this incredible place of expansive connectedness. I was not alone. And I knew that Lydia knew.

I still experience both states of aloneness (and really, there are far more states of aloneness that just these two). Perhaps the experience of isolating pain and the peace of connectedness will be a part of my landscape for the rest of my life.

I do not put conditions on my Afterloss. I embrace what comes and release what goes. It is the only way I know how to navigate the uncharted territory of my Afterloss.

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