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Navigating Loneliness, Resilience, and Human Bonds

Lessons from My Grandmothers

It’s been over a decade and a half since I lost both of my grandfathers. Over these years, I’ve had the privilege to observe the life chapters of my grandmothers. While the family surrounds them, providing love and company, there have been countless moments where they’ve seemed isolated within their thoughts, a profound loneliness evident even amidst the clamour of daily life. Most of us at some point in life are going to experience this, which is sad but fact of life

With my paternal grandmother (in red saree) and maternal grandmother(in blue saree)

The Deep-seated Emotion of Loneliness

Loneliness is an emotion that is difficult to articulate. Often, it is not merely the absence of people around us but the absence of a particular kind of understanding, connection, or shared memories. For my grandmothers, it was clear that the void left behind by my grandfathers was not just physical but also emotional and spiritual.

The Inevitability of Life’s Cycle

Life, with all its unpredictable turns, often presents us with moments of solitude. For many of us, there will come a time when we find ourselves in the same situation as my grandmothers. One partner often precedes the other in departing from this world. The thought, while melancholic, is an essential realisation. Understanding this helps us cherish the present moments and value the bonds we have, knowing they are transient yet impactful.

Building Resilience

One of the incredible lessons I’ve gleaned from my grandmothers’ journeys is their resilience. While loneliness is palpable in their moments of reflection, they’ve also displayed an incredible ability to engage with life, to find joy in the smallest of things, and to continue building connections with those around them.

Combating Loneliness in the Modern World

In an age where we are more connected digitally than ever, feelings of loneliness are surprisingly on the rise. My grandmothers’ experiences underscore the importance of genuine human connections. It’s not about the quantity but the quality of connections. Genuine conversations, understanding, and shared moments of silence often mean more than hundreds of online interactions.

What Haredim community teaches us

The Haredim (singular: Haredi) are a group within Orthodox Judaism characterised by their strict religious observance and their rejection of modern secular culture. The term “Haredi” is derived from the Hebrew word “Harada,” which means “to tremble” or “to fear,” indicating their intense reverence for God. Butter, sugar, and cream hold a prominent place in the Haredim diet, a devout Jewish community making up about 12 percent of Israel’s inhabitants. Given this, it’s not surprising that the Haredim have a seven-fold higher risk of obesity than secular Israelis. Furthermore, a significant majority of them—over 54 percent—live under the poverty threshold.

One might think that these challenges would lead to a reduced life expectancy among the Haredim. Yet, the opposite is true. Despite their economic hardships, the Haredim typically live longer. This longer life span is credited to the tight-knit nature of their community. They unite in prayer, celebration, and labour, offering support ranging from childcare to financial assistance and advice.

The positive correlation between community involvement and longevity is well- documented. Therefore, it’s alarming to see the physical toll the current loneliness epidemic is imposing on many. While loneliness might manifest quietly, it elicits the body’s “fight or flight” response, causing stress hormone surges that increase cholesterol, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. Over the long term, these stress-induced changes can prompt ongoing inflammation in the body, overtaxing the immune system and making individuals more vulnerable to various diseases. Research shows that those who experience chronic loneliness have a 32 percent higher risk of stroke, a 29 percent increased risk of heart disease, and a 64 percent heightened risk of clinical dementia.

The message is evident: Loneliness not only diminishes personal well-being but also places a significant financial strain on healthcare infrastructure and the broader economy. Loneliness isn’t just an emotional challenge; it carries grave repercussions for mental and physical health. Prolonged feelings of loneliness have been linked to increased depression, anxiety, and a greater chance of mental health issues. Moreover, it can suppress the immune response, elevate cardiovascular disease risk, and negatively affect cognitive capabilities. Recognising and actively addressing the profound impacts of loneliness is imperative for our collective health and wellness.

Understanding and acknowledging your feelings of loneliness is the first step towards overcoming it. Take time for self-reflection and identify the underlying causes of your loneliness. Reflect on your needs, values, and aspirations to gain insight into the type of connections that would be meaningful for you. A good example to tackle loneliness is Frida Kahlo, the renowned Mexican artist. In the book “Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo” by Hayden Herrera, Kahlo’s personal journey and struggles, including her battles with physical and emotional pain, are explored. Kahlo’s life was marked by periods of intense isolation and loneliness due to her health issues and turbulent relationships. By utilising artistic expression, journaling, and self-reflection, Frida Kahlo harnessed self awareness as a powerful tool to confront and address her feelings of loneliness. Her artistic and personal journey serves as an inspiring example of how self-awareness can be employed to navigate and overcome the challenges of isolation and emotional distress.

Observing my grandmothers navigate life without their lifelong partners has given me an intimate understanding of loneliness and the human spirit’s tenacity. It reminds me, and I hope it reminds you too, to foster deep, genuine connections in our lives, to reach out to those who might feel alone, and to treasure the moments we have with our loved ones

Pause & Reflect:

  • Do you feel lonely? How does loneliness manifest in your life, and what are some of the underlying factors contributing to those feelings? Explore the depths of your emotions and allow yourself to honestly acknowledge any sense of loneliness that may be present within you.
  • Examine the quality of your relationships. Are they nourishing and fulfilling, or do you often feel disconnected, unheard, or unseen? Loneliness can seep into our lives when our connections lack depth, authenticity, or mutual understanding. Consider whether you have open and honest communication with others, whether you share your joys and vulnerabilities, and whether you feel a genuine sense of belonging and acceptance in your social circles.
  • Do you nurture a healthy relationship with yourself, practising self-compassion and self- care? Are you comfortable being alone with your thoughts and emotions? Loneliness can also arise from a disconnection with our inner selves. Take a moment to delve into your ownself-awareness. Loneliness can intensify when we neglect our own needs, fail to engage in meaningful self-reflection, or struggle to find a sense of purpose and fulfilment within ourselves.

All illustrations are by Kratika Singhal

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