After her spouse had passed away, my husband’s grandmother was lamenting her loneliness to her daughter. “You can talk to me,” consoled her daughter.

“I don’t want to talk to you; I want to talk about you!” responded the grieving mother.

Loneliness comes in all forms. It visits rich and poor, tall and short, educated and illiterate alike. Our job is to be sensitive to it and to respond to the needs of our fellow human being the best we can.

In the scenario above, clearly my mother-in-law was not the person to solve her mother’s loneliness. She needed peers, friends, and perhaps another husband. One of the main things to note is that it is different for everyone. There is no “one size fits all” solution for loneliness just as there is no “one size fits all” description of it. It is unique to everyone.

Some of it is obvious. We look at the singles, the divorced, the widowed and our heart goes out to them. We know we should invite them over, make a coffee date, at the very least call them up. We are moved by their plight – and then we get on with our lives. It is a type of callousness we need to work hard to remedy.

But (as I’m always telling my children!) marriage is not the solution to loneliness. Many people are lonely within their marriages. That may even be sadder than the more obvious situations – who can judge?

Once in a while we meet someone – at a lunch, a cocktail party, a class – who seems to monopolize the conversation, who seems to talk and talk and talk and talk – until I politely check my watch and gasp in (false) astonishment at how late it is. I used to write those people off as blowhards, as egotistical, as obnoxious. But, when looked at with more compassion, I now think those are really lonely people. Many of them are in fact married – but whether the marriage is limited or the need is too great, their desire for connection is unsatisfied.

We are social beings; we desperately need to connect. And we will try to make it happen any way we can (sometimes with destructive consequences).

For some of these situations, there are organizations that try to help, wonderful organizations in fact. But nothing replaces the personal touch, the note or invitation that says “I’m thinking of you” and, more importantly, “You matter to me.”

We are all busy. We are all involved in community organizations and tending to our families. But we hurt ourselves if we turn a blind eye. We can’t help everyone – but one or two or three; as our sages say, “One mitzvah leads to another.” A little more kindness, a little more thoughtfulness, a little more effort…we can do it.

Ultimately we understand how our fellow travelers feel because ultimately we are all lonely. In the end, the only relationship that provides solace and comfort and fills that hole is our relationship with the Almighty. All of us need to develop that relationship. All of us need to focus our attention there. All of us need to recognize that it is the only cure. But giving to others is a good beginning….