Behavioral Health Consultant, Trainer and EAP Manager

Seattle, Washington

Lonely in Grief

Question:

It’s been almost a year since I lost my marriage and I’m still broken up about it. I keep hearing that I should try to be with my friends in order to make this time more bearable, but nobody understands what I’m going through. It feels better to be alone but I know that’s not good for me either.

 

Answer:

Bereavement is doubly isolating.  First, you’re suddenly without the person you’ve lost.  Whether a family member or friend, through death, divorce or other loss, even the loss of your health or career, you’re removed from what was once a source of comfort and familiarity.
But there’s a secondary loss.  Often you feel cut off from the others around you.  It may just be the perception of a vague but substantial sort of curtain.  An invisible but definite chasm.  “I no longer have much in common with these people” or thoughts to that effect might add to a sense of remove as you attend once-familiar gatherings.  But the chasm is more real when you inevitably hear the lame platitudes.  “He’s in a better place now…You must be feeling better by this time…I know you have it bad, but one time I myself….”  and so on.  Friends and family members might actually draw back, making less contact just when they should be reaching out all the more.  It’s maddening.  Those oafs!
But wait.  Blaming these people is like blaming Seattle for being wet in the winter.  They’re doing exactly what people normally do.
When your own life is smooth and you’re with someone who is in the wrenching throws of bereavement you’ll sense the wall as well.  You might not know what to say.  Or, you do, but it’s still hard to really relate and to come across with full authentic empathy.  Unless you’re unusually well-connected to the other one, and knowledgeable about these things, you’re somewhat stuck on the other side of the gap.
So when you’re grieving, it can be worth the effort to shape your support group a bit.  Choose one or more people in you life and educate them:  “Hey pal, here’s what I need from you in the next year or two:

  • Don’t ask me if I’m getting better.  It feels like pressure.
  • Do expect I’m going to feel close to normal sometimes, and back into utter despair moments later.
  • Let me talk and reminisce occasionally.Other days, take me to a movie.  Bowling.  Whatever.  I need diversions.  You’ll probably have to twist my arm sometimes.
  • And so on.

What else should you do?  Drop the guilt that can come with periods of alleviation.  It’s OK to find at times you’re enjoying something.  Let it happen!  You don’t “owe” any more grief than you already have.  And forgive the klutzes who compound your loneliness.  We’re all klutzy.

20 thoughts on “Lonely in Grief

  1. When you have tried these things and they fall on deaf ears, that’s even more depressing, frustrating, and frankly outrageous. I have a friend, went through all this with her, she verbally acknowledged how much she loves me as her friend and wants to support me, how terrible my loss was (good friend to suicide) etc etc all the right words. I believed her. I’ve believed her more than once, twice, over & over again when the words come. Then…3 weeks and no call. I call her- she’s busy, calls me back a few days later. I ask her to have dinner w/me that week. She’s busy. She needs to be with so-and-so (new friend, I’m an old friend) because that woman’s husband is out of town for two days. Or – here’s one of the best ones – her dog needs to go to the groomer. Huh??? I’m dealing with the loss of a close friend (she didn’t know) to suicide and although I have tried to reach out to her & kindly, sincerely, and specifically tell her what she can do for me (she asked) she turns around and forgets it all. Some people are just really too selfish.

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