When your heart is broken and you feel scared and alone reach out, allow others in, connect. Shutting in and shutting down is not the answer. There is a difference between self-care, putting in place necessary boundaries, (taking the time you need to breathe, adjust, cry, scream, sleep, mourn) and a self imposed isolation in which you create a narrative of being forgotten or left behind.
Most likely your family, friends, colleagues, and even acquaintances care. They want to support you, comfort you, show up for you but just don’t know what to say or do. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Managing your expectations of others is important (for your own well being). There are no magic words that will ease your sorrow. If they show up at all they are doing so because they care. A meal left at your door, a card in the mail, a quick check in text, a stop over to change a light bulb or install a smoke detector, an offer to go to lunch, even a suggestion that you get out or attend a support group, know this is their attempt to show support, to show they are thinking of you and that they care. Does it always feel right or enough….no, of course not, but no one can give you what you truly want, for your life to be what it was before loss.
Not knowing what to say or saying the wrong thing is not the same as not caring. Effort is care no matter how imperfect.
We teach people what we want or need so if what you want or need is a hug, company for a meal, to go for a walk…tell them. Invite them. Make the suggestion. The default of “I am fine, I am okay” often translates to “I don’t want to talk about it, give me space, let me be.” Find the courage to ask for what you need and want instead of saying you are okay, instead of not answering the text or call, instead of stewing in silence. I have yet to meet someone who can read minds, but many who would be grateful to know how and when to comfort. Tell them.
If in the moment what you need is space try: Thank you so much for reaching out. It means so much to me to know you care. I need a day or two to myself but would love to (go to a movie on Sunday, have coffee next week, meet for dinner on Tuesday or Wednesday, get a ride to ____, or help with___). You owe it to yourself and to your relationships to be transparent with your needs and to not stand on ceremony waiting for someone to read your mind and know your heart. Tell them.
The life you led when your loved one was still living was meaningful, comforting and familiar. You long for it. You miss it. You want it back. You will not get that life back but you can maintain and build new connections, you can learn to ask for what you need with strength, courage and with grace. Yes, it will feel and be different but a life that is different can still be meaningful and fulfilling.
Ideas for reducing isolation:
- Ask family or friends over to reminisce, to talk about your loved one. If being face to face feels too vulnerable or exhausting email or text asking them to share memories, photos, etc.
- Join a club (even if initially all you can do is watch the paint dry).
Show up and be among the living:
*Join or invite others to start a walking group
*Find a book club (even if reading a book feels impossible, eventually you will be able to)
*Attend lectures at the community center, library, or area college
*Join a knitting circle
*Take classes at your local craft store
*Get a massage
*Go to services at your place of Worship
*Exercise! Join a recreation center or gym
*Attend a support group
If you aren’t ready to leave your house, YET:
- Mediate www.healthjourneys.com
- Watch funny movies
- Listen to music
- Draw, paint, color, create
- Bake foods you will enjoy, give to friends/family that have supported you or donate to your local emergency response teams (police, fire)
- Find an online support group
- Create goals for healing
The most important thing we can do for ourselves is to be transparent with what we need and want. Living forward in grief is experiential. There is no magic wand. Have the courage to reach out, allow others in, connect. Shutting in and shutting down is not the answer. No one can read your mind or know your heart. Tell them.
When we are no longer able to change a situation-we are challenged to change ourselves.
This was such a wonderful article with excellent advice. I will definitely be passing this along to my family.
Thank you Sue.