Grief & healing: Dealing with medical problems alone can be tough

“Long term grief” is a strange situation. It doesn’t stress and ache as new grief does those first weeks, months, years. But it’s basically always there. Stays with you. I usually think of it as waiting under the surface.

One of the times it surfaces is when you personally have a new health problem or other issue and your support is just not there as he or she used to be. I think this is true whether the one who died is a spouse, partner, parent, or best friend. Now you are on your own in many ways.

Before my husband, Baheej, died, we supported each other through several health problems over 44 years. It’s easier with two. But I’m lucky I have my sister Mary, as well as caring children, grandchildren and relatives. It makes a very big difference, even if they are at a great distance, not local.

Being alone is sometimes good, sometimes not. “Me time” can be relaxing whenever you want a restful break or just time to sit and read. But it can be very stressful when you personally have an unexpected new medical problem.

Modern medicine is amazing. Seems most problems can be fixed or cured. We’ve come to rely on that belief. But it’s still pretty unpleasant if bad news happens to you. Especially if you live alone without family nearby.

I was reminded of this because it recently happened to me. It can be fixed, cured, but still, it creates a sort of intense aloneness.

What can we do about this? Well, there are a few things one can actually do:

• Rely on friends and family. Phone, text Let them know what’s going on. Don’t just keep it to yourself. They can’t support you if they don’t know. Emotional support is important.

• Seek the most talented medical advice you can get. Do some research to better understand.

• Stay involved in the community and neighborhood as much as you can. It is not good to retreat into social isolation.

• Do the best you can to keep an optimistic perspective.

• If religious or spiritual, let that help you too.

The point is: Thankfully we live a long time these days. Sometimes many years alone. So, over those many years, health problems do crop up. Grief, combined with aloneness, makes us especially vulnerable. How we handle the situation is a big factor in getting better.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at

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