Things Fall Apart: The joys of being totally alone

When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves


There are lots of litmus tests you can apply to your own life to test where you are with getting over grief.

Can you listen to an Adele song without crying is always a good one.

In a separation – go to a wedding and not feel like a bruise is being pressed upon, but instead just enjoy the day out.

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Walk into a school event full of parents who are in couples and not feel bad about it.

Leave an occasion full of families and go home, the two of you and feel content.

Or not. Sometimes tests within the day to day are not enough, and you need a more extreme litmus test, because it is surprisingly easy at times to pretend that you are fine. Surprisingly easy to mask things from your own self entirely, in the day-to-day.

Time alone

I went away for a week on my own this week.

The last time I went away by myself, all this grief that I had absolutely no idea was there, because I thought it had been dealt with, hit me like a sledgehammer. It was almost scary, to not have known it was there.

This time, from the minute my car pulled off onto the N11, I felt a little bubble of joy within me. That feeling you get on your birthday, when you know that no matter what you do that day, you will have a sense of untouchable wellbeing.

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I barely spoke to another person all week. The occasional wave across a courtyard, exchange in a shop when I went to get more bread, milk and Monster Munch.

Every day I took myself off for a long walk around the golf course, grounds of an old estate, across the road from where I was staying. My only company a group of pheasants who, the first day, shot out nervily from the undergrowth; by day three, they waddled along ahead of me, stopping if I stopped.

Occasionally I’d see some golfers in the distance, and we’d exchanged a wave. Mostly though I had the place to myself.

Quieten down

Acres of rolling grass, trees like skyscrapers with branches that elegantly draped the ground like the layers of a dress.

I can’t think of the last time I’ve had so much time on my own, and so big a space all to myself. Some days it began to rain as I was setting out, and if I was at home I would have turned back, but here I kept going.

I found a walled garden, deserted, and stood under the orchard trees waiting out a rainstorm, utterly alone.

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Every day I would walk around the big old house, Coolattin House, seemingly deserted apart from a tabby cat sitting proprietorially out front. It’s the kind of thing that could feel bleak but it didn’t. It might have, this time last year. If the bleak is in you, you’ll find it in the outside world as well.

I quietened everything down, went away from all the things that filled the gap, that made life lovely again, after my marriage ended.

I wasn’t sure how this week would feel. When you go away, you risk coming up against stuff that you were quite happily living in ignorance of. It can be surprising, how much you can be ignoring. I was a bit nervous about it.

There’s something about successfully spending a week on your own that proves something to yourself.

"Did you not get lonely at all?" asked my host as I settled up, handed back the keys. Not in the slightest. I loved it.

Lia Hynes' podcast series, How to Fall Apart is available to stream on multiple platforms now.

Photo: Louis Hansel via Unsplash

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