When Loneliness is Your Closest Companion

“She must have been quite the beauty in her day” was what struck me as her motorized shopping-scooter puttered up close behind me. I studied her face and perfectly arranged white hair. The elegant jewel-tone-blue dress would look out of place on anyone else making a trip through our local grocery store, but she wore it as naturally as I wore my jeans. The silver broach with tiny inlaid diamonds glinted with a hint of past glories and evenings spent in far more luxurious surroundings than the baking-goods aisle.

She was intently staring up at the shelves, far beyond her reach, when I asked if there was something I could get for her. “Oh, no, I really don’t need anything. Just looking at what they have in this section.” We were smack dab in the middle of sugars, flours, and a wide array of baking commodities. I held out my two cans of sweetened condensed milk and asked, “Have you ever used this brand?” I rushed on to explain, “I’ve always used Eagle Brand, but I just noticed this generic one—and it’s half price.”

That’s how our conversation began, and that’s all it took to uncover her grief.

“I don’t cook much anymore, my husband past away a year ago, and my life is so different now. So very different . . .” Her voice trailed off to a past era of joy and companionship. My voice went soft, “I’m so very sorry.” And those four small words invited her to share more.

“He loved lemon ice box pies, and I always used Eagle Brand for that. But I don’t make pies anymore. I don’t even really cook.” And she lifted up a small microwave meal from the scooter’s grocery basket. “This is how I fix a meal now. Even at breakfast, I just scramble one egg now, one egg.” She emphasized it, as though she was still trying to comprehend that there was no longer another to cook for.

She no longer had a reason to scramble more than one small egg.

“I miss him so much. I am so lonely without him, we did everything together” And at this, she stopped looking off in the distance and looked directly into my eyes. By now, I’d leaned down closer, wanting to embrace her but giving her a respectable space instead. And then, she entrusted me with her heart. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever been through—the hardest thing in my life.”

She didn’t sound bitter, just sad. She was grieving, and when one is walking in grief, I’ve learned that it’s important to encourage the sorrowful to use their voice to express that grief. Telling your story is a significant part of the healing process when walking that painful road.

As I studied her face, I calculated the years—maybe in her late eighties—and I tried to comprehend all of the hard things she must have faced through those decades. But here, at the close of her life, came the hardest. She went on to talk of her son, who she’d called that day to ask if he could meet her at a fast-food burger place, because she knew he couldn’t be away from his business very long. She explained, “Some days, I just can’t take eating another meal alone. So, he came and we had a nice lunch together.”

I wanted to bend down to hug her, wanted to let her feel the embrace of one who cared about her sorrow, wanted to ask her if I could pray for her . . . but as I reached for her, an impatient shopper pushed into her shopping scooter, and our moment of intimacy was broken. She engaged the “Go” button and called a good-bye to me as she scooted further down the aisle and out of my sight. I longed to run after her, but instead, I grabbed the half-price sweetened condensed milk and gripped the buggy handle to move out of the way of shoppers who were now filling the aisle. And I silently prayed for her as I walked the aisles, hoping for another chance to reconnect with her.

The thought of how many times she made her man lemon icebox pies stayed with me all day long. I never saw her again, but I’ve been praying for her. I picture her, as she scrambles just one egg to eat a lonely breakfast, as she visits past memories, and longs for her husband’s companionship. 

Can I pray for you today?

I might not be able to respond to your comment, but as I read your prayer request, I promise to pray for you. I know many of you are in seasons of affliction and sorrow. You might not have anyone you can entrust your pain to, no one who stands with you in your loss. But here, know that you can freely share, and we will pray for your comfort and especially that you will experience the presence of Christ in the midst of your pain.

Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort. He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so through Christ our comfort also overflows.” (2 Corinthians 1:3–5)