Isolation in Grief…by Default or by Choice
“You understand that after the funeral, after the flowers, after the phone calls . . .after your friends and their final farewells, YOU must go about the business of redefining Life.” (excerpt from After “Good-bye”: Inspirational Encouragement to Live while you Grieve and Smile while you Cry”)
Redefining Life…that is the challenge of everyone who is coping with loss…any loss. But the degree of change required is greater when the loss is that of a Loved One, and the greater the degree of interaction, integration and inter-dependency experienced between the one was has died and the one who is left to grieve, the greater the degree of change required.
- The grieving widow, for example, who was accustomed to arising at 6:00 a.m. and preparing a large breakfast for her husband may still, out of habit, arise at 6:00 a.m. However, the quantity she prepares for breakfast will be different. Her choices of what to eat as a single person vs. a spouse may be very different, simply because it may be easier to prepare and, in the wake of grief, easier is better. But that is only the external difference. Internally, she is adjusting to having no one to talk to at the breakfast table. If she has children at home, obviously the conversation must continue, but the nature of the conversation is altered, and there is still the great void. The breakfast experience itself has been forever altered for everyone involved. As a result, every day begins in isolation, even if other people are everywhere.
- The television still sits on the console in the family room. Dust may collect before the grieving individual even thinks to turn it on. Or again, the television set may be turned on out of habit, but while the same Thursday evening national news segment blares in the background, the one left to grieve hears nothing….not the words, not the sentiments, not the sound of alarm in the commentator’s voice, not even the noise of the commercials.
- Weekends roll around and Saturday evening is when their favorite couple always joined them for dinner. In the beginning they won’t expect this ritual to continue. But eventually a decision must be made: Does the grieving individual invite them over on the requisite date and time, or does she simply never bring it up again, and everyone is left to accept that things are different and life is being redefined. When the day and time arrive and pass, she is left remembering what was. And even if the dinner date is revived, nothing is the same and, even as she eats and speaks, she is alone, left to remember what was. Perhaps her adult children realize the significance of this day and insist on taking her to dinner with them…a thoughtful gesture that should be encouraged and accepted, but still a painful reminder that life must be redefined, and when they return her to her home, she is left alone to remember what was.
I could go on and on with these examples, but there is a point to be made. Grief includes isolation. Sometimes it is inherent because life has been redefined, and as successfully as this may have been done by the one left to grieve, life is now void of an inhabitant whose loss creates loneliness…regardless of the number of people coming and going.
Friends and family try to console, but most of their words are ineffective because their perspective is different, their relationship to the one who died is different, the changes they are experiencing as a result of the loss are different. The grieving individual loves them still, but their existence cannot fill the void left by the loss. And thus the sense of loneliness persists.
Because loneliness is inherent to the state of grief, some people get comfortable with it and eventually find themselves preferring to be alone. Alone is easier…nothing to fake, no one watching for signs of depression, no one expecting conversation and communion. No one to judge, no one to make recommendations for moving forward, no one to comment on the obvious lack of transition to the new version of life.
Navigating grief God’s way leaves no room isolation by choice while providing for the innate need to spend time alone. Navigating grief God’s way emphasizes the ever presence of Jesus and His comfort, while acknowledging that supportive friends and family are necessary for grief navigation. Navigating grief God’s way acknowledges that redefining Life is an ongoing process after any loss, while providing the step-by-step process for doing so in a way that enlarges Life vs. diminishing it.
And navigating grief God’s way produced wholeness. It recognizes the lost Loved One as an extreme blessing while acknowledging that the Giver of all blessings continues to bless, even in the wake of loss.