An Eleanor Rigby Kind of Life

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream
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 all belong?

Father McKenzie writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there’s nobody there
What does he care?

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Ah, look at all the lonely people

Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

All the lonely people (Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people (Ah, look at all the lonely people)
Where do they all belong?
(Eleanor Rigby, The Beatles)

There are so many tragedies just waiting to happen. Most of them do. Every single day there is news of heartbreak and loss. Of families who wait for the one who will never come home again.

If accidents and evil people weren’t enough, there is always a hodgepodge of sickness and human frailty looking to claim another victim.

Heart Disease
There are not enough pages to list all the possible and potential life altering, life ending medical conditions.

It’s a crapshoot and all of those things are sickening when they become our reality.

Personally, I am worn out by heartache, worry, and fear. I am so weary of the constant sense of impending doom. Of wondering what’s next…

But, I digress.

In a world of broken hearts, lives, and dreams, I think there is a greater calamity. I didn’t see it for much of my life. I certainly didn’t understand it. And if the truth be told, I didn’t want to…

If it was painful then; it is doubly, triply painful now.
It’s a condition that happens as a result of brokenness.
It is often hidden behind a slick mask of happiness, a false bravado, or a facade of joy.

It is called loneliness.

But even using that word connotes something that, while hurtful and undesirable, is just a situation you have to get used to or worse, find an answer for… (i.e., fix it!)

And the advice often given?
Get out of yourself…
Make a new friend…
Find a new activity…
Blah, Blah, Blah…

All of that is well and good, but it fails to answer the root cause of loneliness–it makes the lonely seem somehow week for being lonely in the first place. It completely misses, disregards, or denies the loneliness of loss, hurt, pain, and the perceived absence of God.

And that my friends is the loneliest place on earth…

Loneliness, the great calamity? Absolutely. You betcha. Yes, sir, don’t say maybe…
And that’s often found within the church–of any denomination or stripe. Can you imagine how lonely the lonely are without even a church family to call on?

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And ride that highway in the sky

This is for all the single people
Thinking that love has left them dry
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
You never know until you try

Well, I’m on my way yes, I’m back to stay
Well, I’m on my way back home, hit it

This is for all the lonely people
Thinking that life has passed them by
Don’t give up until you drink from the silver cup
And never take you down or never give you up
You never know until you try
(Lonely People–America)

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I often feel very alienated. It is almost like I have the plague. And it is visible–you can see the distance happen.

More on that in a moment.

But first, it is obvious some of my experience is fairly common. If you want to make people uncomfortable, suffer unexplainable loss.

  • Face a tragedy outside the imagination of most.
  • Live through horror.
  • Grieve.


We don’t know how to handle the grief, heartache, and pain of those who have suffered or are suffering loss. Add in unspeakable evil, and most are left with their mouths opening and closing like some kind of mechanized Big Mouth Billy Bass singing from a plaque on the wall.


And I understand.

But here’s where it really hurts. When the funeral is over and all the mourners depart, the real grieving begins.

  • The bed is empty.
  • The chair is empty.
  • There is a hole in the very fabric of life.
  • Add in being a victim of depravity and murder, and the hole is made of harsh jagged edges that are all the harder to mend.

Maybe the best two words we can use to describe how the mourner feels are empty and lonely. The emptiness and loneliness is a bottomless pit of despair especially when it feels as if God has abandoned you.

I was once accused in the aftermath of our tragedy of pushing people away. Sure. If you judged me or tried to fix me, I couldn’t cope with that then or now. But if you will be honest, you’ll also realize that what some might call pushing away could have been the sound of people running the opposite direction.

It is easier to run away than be dragged into all the pain. It’s a lot more comfortable too. And the fact is, we want people to get back to normal so we can be normal.

I experienced that in spades. Earlier readers may remember I was asked three weeks after the funerals “if I was about to get over all this and get back to preaching.” At the sixth month mark, I had to make a decision. “Preach or step down. The church was ready to get back to normal…”

Normal? I understand the church couldn’t be allowed to fall apart. But I never really needed the guilt that came with hearing, “We are losing members and contributions because you aren’t preaching.” I understand we were all in unknown territory. I get that others needed to get on with their lives. But normal? I had no idea then what normal would ever look like.

So here I am. Trying as hard as I can to build a new life. I am so very thankful for my family’s support and love. For friends who stick closer than a brother. For a wife who is as determined as I am to build and thrive and live.

Do I want more? You betcha! I want a speaking and writing ministry. I am working as hard at developing that as I am our real estate careers (My Becki, the Interior Designer, is now a licensed real estate agent and we are marketing our selves as The Home Team).

But the truth is still hard. I often feel like an alien. Like I don’t belong here. Like a fish out of water. In a world of so called normal folks, my life and situation is anything but. And whether you see it, believe it, or not… it sets me apart. It sets me apart in spite of however hard I work to keep it from happening.

At times it feels like I have the plague. Especially around preachers and church folk. I am an unwanted reminder. Because if it could happen to my family, then it could happen to yours… and nobody wants to be reminded of that.

So do me a favor, call me to speak. Ask me to write. That would be great. But more importantly, try to remember that those who grieve still need you to help them pick up the pieces–and that’s a ministry that may take a lifetime to complete.

Chances are, you know somebody who hurts and feels all alone in the process. It is often a very painful world. Find a way to help them know they are not alone.

Words by themselves will not do it, but love converted into action will…


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I tend to like having time alone depending on what I am doing.

Sounds conflicted, doesn’t it?

One of the things I value so much about my new marriage is our ability to be together quietly.

Nothing is forced. We don’t have to talk for the sake of creating noise. We can each be doing what we want and are completely comfortable just knowing the other is near.

That shared look across the room communicates volumes (and truth be known makes my heart race).
I am grateful for her continued presence in my life.

Sometimes I like solitude.
Often I like peace and tranquility.
But never, ever do I like being lonely.

When I remarried, the tongues wagged (and so did the keyboards). I heard from numerous folks how “men just don’t do well alone.” As if the only reason I married again so quickly was to fill a void in my life. But hey, if they were talking about me they were giving somebody else a much need break.

Can I get an amen?

Was there a void in my life? Yes.
Did I get married just to fill it (or have a momma figure for my boys)? No.

Not being lonely is important to me, but not so important that I would jump into something rash just so I wouldn’t be alone.

All that being said, I married Becki because it was obvious we had a deep, deep connection. It was crystal clear that together, neither of us would ever be lonely again. We have a good marriage. We are a good team.

Three Dog Night (Yes, I am that old) once sang one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.

Real lonely hurts deep. You can be lonely by yourself. You can be lonely in a crowd. You can be lonely in a relationship. You can be lonely preaching for a church. You can be lonely when your greatest needs, desires, and expectations are unmet.

Don”t believe me? Just ask.

Ask the wife who hasn’t had a meaningful conversation with her husband in years.
Ask the preacher who is shriveling on the vine for lack of real friendship among the people he serves.
Ask the single person who is desperately tired of having no one to share their heart.
Ask the woman who wants a child what it is like to be surrounded by other women and their children.
Ask the step-parent who wants nothing more than to be able to love the children of his or her spouse.
Ask the man, woman, or child whose emptiness wants more than anything to hear a word from God.

There are people all around you–some even close–who are so lonely they could scream.

Have you ever noticed?

Pain and tragedy creates loneliness. And sometimes others are so uncomfortable with your pain that they unintentionally create distance making the loneliness that much more profound.

There is a very real chance that nothing you can say or do will alleviate that particular pain. But at least by being present, the loneliness might not be so, well, lonely.

Each of us has the ability to speak to the loneliness present in our world.

Will you?

Les Ferguson, Jr.