It’s not uncommon to feel isolated in grief. Does the grief push people away, or is the griever making a “choice” to remove themselves from friends, family, or even society in general? Like most things, the answer is probably a little of both, or something right in the middle. But why does this happen? Why would people leave us to suffer alone, or why would we prefer to go into seclusion after loss?
One answer? Because this loss has changed you. And all the things that allowed you to “fit in” with your friends and loved ones before seem to have disappeared. You may no longer know who you are and, in turn, they’re not quite sure they recognize you either. The things you talked about before don’t seem to matter as much. You may feel disinterested, disconnected, even resentful perhaps. And for the most part, the people you spend time with can sense this too.
So often the solution to this is to isolate ourselves more, by removing ourselves from situations that we no longer feel comfortable in. But the problem with that is that for most of us there’s nothing more lonely…than actually being alone.
If you were to look up the definition of “isolated” it would suggest that isolation is the state of being alone, involuntarily. Involuntarily. That seems to be the important part here. Because while seclusion, or going into seclusion, is a more purposeful withdrawal, feeling isolated suggests that we don’t want it to be that way.
The thing is, there is an answer. For so many issues in life there are no answers and there are no fixes and there is nothing that can be done to change an intolerable situation. But for this isolation and this loneliness that surrounds loss there is actually an answer. And while it is in no way easy, it is absolutely simple.
Be with people.
I read an article recently about self care. I pay attention to these things, especially how it may apply to the grievers that I work with. And while self care is something I often talk about (the importance of carving out time for relaxation and rejuvenation, in whatever form that may take for you) this article proposed that self care meant something else entirely. The suggestion was that to truly take care of yourself you have to put yourself out there, in situations that actually allow other people to take care of you.
I can hear the scoffs! I know our first thought is, “ha! Someone to take care of me…wouldn’t that be nice?”. Because let’s face it, most people (and caregivers especially!) aren’t really used to anyone else taking care of them.
And let’s admit it, there is a pride in this. An almost stubborn pride in not asking for help, not needing help, and not looking for help. It’s the thing we try to teach our kids, “You have to learn how to do this yourself!”. Whether it’s tying their shoes, or doing their own laundry.
Being self-sufficient is such a revered and often such a necessary quality that we don’t know how to put the brakes on it even when we need to.
As a Hospice Volunteer Coordinator I have made thousands of calls to caregivers, offering volunteer help. Mostly to provide respite so that someone who is caring for a loved one can have the “luxury” of going to the food store or to a dentist’s appointment. And what I’ve found over the years is how many people refuse to accept the help. Looking at other parts of life, and thinking about the reasons we usually choose not to partake of a service would be because it’s too expensive, or too inconvenient. But here is a free service, scheduled at the convenience of the caregiver….still declined by so many. And the main reason? They don’t want to trouble anyone. They can do it themselves. No one else can do it like they can. They’ve been doing it alone for a long time, they can keep doing it alone for just a little bit longer…
And in coping with grief and loss, this idea of reaching out to others as a means to cope doesn’t seem any easier or any more likely. The reasons?
- Being with people may, at times, make us feel lonelier. Especially for the reasons listed above (we’ve changed or we are perceived as changed).
- We may feel that there’s not really anything anyone can do to help or make us feel better, so what’s the point?
- We may feel that no one actually wants to help (or that the people who have helped are sick of listening to our sad stories).
So getting back to the idea of allowing someone else to take care of us as a means of “self care”. It may seem almost paradoxical, but what could that actually look like?
It may not mean care in the way we think. It may not mean someone cooking or cleaning for us or helping with errands or chores (though of course it could). But in general, it’s going to mean removing ourselves from seclusion long enough to see how good being with people can feel. How much it can help to have someone listen. How much we can learn from listening to what others have gone through. Remembering that (in my opinion at least) most people are good, and most people have the best intentions for us.
Feeling isolated and lonely in a room full of people usually comes from the disconnect that happens when we feel we can no longer relate to the people we’re with. So there’s two choices here. Either surround yourself with those who are more likely to understand (fellow grievers) or find the common ground you share with the people you may have no choice but to spend time with.
If that’s coworkers at a holiday party, use that time as a bit of an escape from the grief, to be with people who haven’t been affected by this loss. We can choose to resent the happiness and easy joy they seem to have been granted, or we can try to soak up some of the contentment that permeates the air around them. Being with happy people doesn’t have to be painful or feel like a punishment- it can be a reminder of hope instead.
And for those times that we’re with friends and family, those who knew our loved one and may have also been effected by the loss, remember the opportunity it creates to share your grief. Maybe you’re experiencing the loss differently or more deeply, but with this group, spending time together means being with the people who will always remember your loved one too. This loss, in whatever form it takes, can be what you have in common. And if you look hard enough, you may be able to see the comfort in that.
Because maybe what we need to learn at this point in our lives is that it’s okay to need people.
If they’re not coming to us, maybe we have to go out and find them. If that sounds exhausting, it may be a little. But there is a reward for this effort. Because in my experience, a good belly laugh never happens alone. And maybe you don’t feel like laughing right now. But you will.
Grief has a way of closing the doors and windows of our heart. When so much pain has been allowed in, it can be very tempting to try and prevent any chance of being hurt again.
But we know what happens when a house sits closed and shut down – unused for too long. The air becomes thick and stagnant. It becomes dark and dismal.
So for today, take a chance and open the windows- let the light, love and laughter in.
If you’re feeling isolated and alone, you can do something about it right now. Visit us at www.griefincommon.com to connect with other grievers. You can do a profile search to find someone who has had a loss similar to your own by using the criteria that’s important to you. Participate in our forums, see and share stories, even help keep the memory of your loved one alive by creating a tribute page.
You don’t have to do this alone. You will always feel better when you connect with the right people. You can find them by clicking here.