Up Close With Dr. E

Healing the lonely heart


Like a knife, COVID-19 has severed us from activities we once took for granted:

1. Birth of a child. At 11:11 p.m., six-pound Sansa opened her eyes for the first time. Anxious relatives sighed upon seeing the newest member of their family.

2. Funeral. With tearful eyes, Michael asked his father, “Do I have to look at grandfather in that box?” Holding his son’s hand, his father replied, “No, you and I will stand here at the back of the room.”

3. Child’s birthday. “My daughter’s 9th birthday is this Saturday. Can you have her cake ready by then?” A mother pleads with the bakery cook.

4. Dry-cleaning. “Cleaned and pressed, please — Oh, can you get this gravy stain out of my husband’s tie?”

5. Haircut. “Don’t cut it so short, I’m going to try a new look.” A teenaged girl commanded her hairdresser.

6. Church. “Dad, we’re going to be late to church again — slow poke can’t find his shoes!” “Help him,” a young father tells his older daughter.

7. Sports event. “Coming to my football game, grandma?” a 17-year-old boy asked. “Haven’t missed one yet,” she replied.

8. Wedding. “This dress is ugly! Why do I have to be in her wedding?” An eight-year-old girl protested. “Because” her mother replied, “you are the ring-bearer.”

Cut away all these heart-to-heart connections — birthday parties, funerals, weddings, haircuts, the roar of the Indy 500, the red, white and blue fireworks of July 4th, the murmur of house guests, the spicy, smoked barbecue ribs at summer gatherings — and what do you get? A lonely heart.

Here is your map for today’s column:

Part 1: Lessons from musicians, poets, artists, and others about loneliness.

Part 2: Antidotes to heal a lonely heart.

Lessons from Art: Loneliness is a bitter stew composed of many ingredients. Let’s extract the specific poisons of loneliness from works of art, and then create an antidote.

1. “Waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door, who is it for? All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they belong?” This song by the Beatles, “Eleanor Rigby,” identifies not belonging.

2. “Oh! Why does the wind blow upon me so wild? — It’s because I’m nobody’s child.” This poem, by Phila Case, identifies the poison, alone.

3. “When my bed is empty, makes me feel awful mean and blue, my springs are getting rusty, living single like I do.” Blues singer Bessie Smith belts out the sadness of loneliness.

4. “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” Mother Teresa, missionary, identifies the poison of being unwanted.

5. “The wind blows out of the gates of the day, the wind blows over the lonely of heart, and the lonely of heart is withered away.” W.B. Yeats, Irish poet, identifies heart-withering pain.

6. This poem by Dr. E describes the poison of being not needed. “I’m a hammer in a world without nails, a violin lacking strings, an underground root severed from its’ tree trunk.”

Six poisons of loneliness: Not belonging, alone, sadness, unwanted, withering pain and feeling not needed.

Six Antidotes for loneliness:

1. The power of the sun. While living in Sweden, I made this observation — when the sunlight began to return (it fades in winter), scores of people sitting in the parks tilted their faces back like tv satellite dishes, toward the sun. Curious, I tried it. Ten minutes later I felt joy. Sunlight and nature are medicine for the lonely heart.

2. Ask for help. This simple but difficult task can be so powerful, it amazes people. How to ask for help? Say this, “Since COVID-19, I’ve been down and alone, so, I decided to call you.”

3. Move your body. Biochemicals, produced by your body — natural mood lifters — are activated when you walk, bike, rake your lawn or wash your car.

4. Cook new recipes. Food, especially new recipes, have the power to calm, comfort and energize.

5. Build a new circle of friends. As we get older, we lose friends. The idea of making new friends produces anxiety. Why? Most of us, since early life, have false beliefs about ourselves which limit our capacity to meet and befriend others. Common beliefs are, “I’m not sociable, I’m too quiet or shy, other people wouldn’t like me, or I’d be unable to relate to them.” What stops you from making new friends? Fear of rejection. Drop this fear, do social experiments and you will experience people in an entirely new and positive way.

6. Find ways to be needed.

• Rescue stray cats.

• Start a garden to give food to the poor.

• Be a tutor.

• Join the Art League and help with their exhibits.

•Sew COVID-19 masks.

• Help in voting booths for the 2020 elections.

Conclusion: Just like dogs and cats, we are social critters. COVID-19 has tried to cut social bonds, creating poisons which lead to the bitter stew of loneliness. Fight back!

The content of this article is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for treatment by a professional.

References: The Macmillan Dictionary of Quotations, Chartwell Books, 2000.


Dr. Richard Elghammer contributes his column to the Journal Review each week.


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