You get divorced and people ask for a few weeks how you’re doing. Your dad suddenly died and, within the month, you’ve received several notes from people who knew him and loved him. Your oldest child was diagnosed with autism and people who’ve walked that path offer guidance.
You are grieving. And it will take time to heal.
You don’t want people to feel sorry for you. You don’t expect constant attention. What happened — happened. But it also feels lonely when people seem to forget.
And perhaps even worse, if they seem to expect some kind of miraculous recovery — and then give you the message you should get it together.
It’s a life skill to move through pain. Grief or sorrow comes in waves and one hopes certainly that each wave decreases in force as time goes by. Yet there are times on this journey that you can get hit with a wave that’s even stronger than the first few. You don’t want to define yourself as a victim and allow the difficult things in your life to totally define you.
But it takes time for the waves to recede.
Why is it that people get so itchy for you to move on?
It seems more than simple self-consciousness or feeling awkward because they might have to ask a private question.
It’s fear. People shy away from reality– that the unthinkable can happen. It’s frightening to wonder if their own life could get out of hand — that they might be faced with a change that’s unwelcome, an illness that could be life-threatening, or a loss that feels unbearable.
So, they back off. They want to believe you’re doing just fine — that whatever loss you’ve experienced is manageable — that your life isn’t careening off the scale.
Three thoughts on handling your grief and loneliness…
Here are some ideas to consider.
- Appreciate the people who do check in and allow yourself to talk with them openly.
When you’re hurting a lot, it’s easy to isolate, to not want to show your grief. You can often try to hide what you’re going through or convince yourself that it only makes it worse to open up to someone. Talking with a good friend who you trust and that knows how to be supportive can ease the loneliness. Your true friends want to be there for you — it’s an honor for them — and it’s what you would do it in return.
- Use distraction when you need it but know there will be a time when it’s important to work through your loss.
Often, there is a stage in grief when you fill your life with things that will take your mind away from what has happened. You’re scared of becoming depressed. You go see friends, you throw yourself into work, or you become involved in a relationship. You say yes to every invitation you receive. You’re exhausted and you may know what you’re doing. But you’re compelled to do it.
In time, know it’s better to stop and face what’s waiting for you. It can feel more lonely to run away than to stand still and feel the pain.
- Realize it’s not that people don’t care — they may not know what questions to ask or whether you’re open to sharing.
People may fumble around and not know what to say but be attempting to reach out. You can let them know you’re okay with talking about it, if indeed, you are. You can look for support groups in your area or now, Facebook groups abound with support for different issues and losses. Those people who are facing what you are, or have done so in the past, can offer a kind of wisdom that others cannot.
If it’s not a good time to talk about it, or risk revealing vulnerability, you can always say, “Thanks for asking, but I can’t talk about it right now.”
And to those who may feel awkward in approaching someone who’s grieving, it’s okay if you stumble around a bit. You asked. You let them know you care. You let them know you remember.
And they won’t feel quite as lonely because you did.
Dr. Margaret Rutherford, a clinical psychologist, has practiced for twenty-five years in Fayetteville, Arkansas., Her work can be found at http://www.drmargaretrutherford.com, as well as HuffPost, Psych Central, Psychology Today, the Gottman Blog and others. She’s the author of “Marriage Is Not For Chickens”, a perfect gift book on marriage, and hosts a weekly podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Her new book, Perfectly Hidden Depression, will be published by New Harbinger in 2019.