This theme of loneliness and isolation has been a regular part of my grief journey. I had written about what does loneliness feel like when grieving? In this post, I intend to share how it has morphed and how I am learning to cope with grief isolation.
I had heard that it’s possible to be amid people who love you dearly and still be lonely. I never knew what it truly felt like until the death of my loved one. People surrounded me, but I still felt lonely and wanted to be by myself.
It has been difficult for me to recall to memory if I can compare my grief isolation with anything else that I’ve experienced in the past. The closest way I can describe it to you is feeling as though you no longer belong and don’t fit into those around you.
Please don’t get me wrong, my support network has been excellent, but I couldn’t help the feelings of no longer belonging.
With the sense of missing someone you love comes the overwhelming awareness of all you have lost. I wish we could see each other again if only for a brief period, to be comforted and reassured that my loved one is still part of my life.
Experiencing grief can be a lonely and isolating experience for many people. The only person who can truly understand your loss is you; nobody else knew your loved one in the same way you did, and no one knew them in the exact way you did.
Looking back now, I understand why I was uncomfortable being with people and why I wanted to be alone most of the time.
Emotions of grief come in waves with varied intensity, frequency and duration, frequently without warning. The absence of my loved one’s presence was too heavy to bear. Besides grief, experiencing grief isolation can be incredibly painful.
In the earlier months following the death of my loved one, I spent at least 20 hours daily in the blinds drawn ‘darkroom’ by myself. I occasionally went downstairs to ‘report’ myself so that those around knew that I was alive and okay. I intentionally took long walks on paths or fields where I rarely saw anybody. I simply wanted to be alone.
I barely sat with those in the house for more than five minutes at a time. I didn’t have the emotional and mental capacity for conversation outside the usual ‘how was your night? How are you guys? Have you eaten? Etc’
I remember coming back from one of my long walks on a sunny afternoon, where I had prepped myself to sit in with the family for at least twenty minutes. I spent most of that walk lost in thoughts as my mind wrestled back and forth like an unending rally of a professional tennis match. I was telling myself off and encouraging myself to spend more time with the family.
I had pumped and encouraged myself as I approached the roundabout on my last leg to the house about how I would spend some time watching a movie with the family.
I opened the front door, walked to the kitchen, and welcomed my siblings, who were snacking. I grabbed a glass of water and headed to the living room to join other family members who were there.
Only this time, it felt like someone had tied a lead to my feet. My heart raced like someone who a dog had pursued. My heart pumped faster as I approached the living room.
My hearing became muffled. I couldn’t make out for what anyone said. I felt blood draining from my face to my feet. We exchanged greetings. It felt like I had a lump stuck in my throat, making it harder to swallow. I grabbed a grey dining chair, sat down, and was watching the movie with them.
I glanced around the room occasionally. They were engrossed in the movie (or maybe they pretended to be engrossed in it). I struggled to concentrate on the movie. I further encouraged myself, “Tolu, you can do it. You’re only sitting here for 20 minutes.”
I thought I was doing well, that at least 10 minutes had passed until I looked at my phone and realised that I had only been sitting there for only two minutes. It felt like time was slow.
I don’t know if this has ever happened to you. Have you ever decided to do a fast and planned to break at 6 pm and you’ve been ‘busy’ all day. In your mind, you think it must be nearly 3 pm only for you to discover when you check the time that it’s not noon yet?
I checked my phone again and again, only to discover that I had only been in the room for six minutes in total. Meanwhile, there had been an ongoing battle of concentration and a feeling of not belonging rising on the inside.
I excused myself from everyone before ten minutes was up. I escaped to my dark den, where I continued to grapple with the intense feelings of sadness and sorrow.
I challenged myself to spend more physical time with my family. It took me another month of trying and failing before I could spend twenty minutes with them. It would take another three months before I could spend 60 minutes with anyone.
Have you ever tried not to think? Please go ahead, try not to think for the next one minute.
No matter how much we try, we cannot help but think. Thinking is a very prominent part of who we are as humans. We constantly hear our internal dialogue commenting on whatever our brains are noticing at any given moment. It’s automatic.
In the aftermath of the loss of a loved one, our thoughts are in hyper-drive. We often become consumed by these dark and overwhelming thoughts throughout the grieving process. One of the coping strategies I have found extremely helpful on my journey through grief is ‘identify and express.’
I feel the problem is quarterly solved once we can identify the emotion or thought. As we move through this part of our grief journey, I believe it is crucial to identify the thoughts that lead to further isolation.
Sometimes, all we need is a break from the constant monologue that captivates our minds, especially when we are consumed by thoughts that make us feel uncomfortable.
Here are some thoughts that I have observed that contribute to my grief isolations:
“I feel so alone.” “I must be strong.” “I might depress everyone else that comes in contact with me and suck the joy and happiness out.” “I don’t want to be noticed,” “I don’t want people to feel sorry for me,” “I feel so vulnerable”, “I just want to be left alone”, “I don’t want to ask for what I want or need”, etc.
I’ll like to share some ways I am learning to cope with my grief isolation which I hope will help you gain power in your moments of isolation.
Tips for coping with grief-related isolation
- Think about who in your environment provides the most support to you, and with whom are you most comfortable (accepting and caring) about grieving?
- Allow the people who care about you in instead of shutting them out. Be honest with them about your emotional state.
- To express what you feel when you feel it is authentic and courageous. Aside from that, you will heal more quickly and thoroughly this way.
- Let others (especially children) know if and when you need to be alone so that they won’t feel rejected.
- Make a note of the times you feel most lonely and try to alter your routines and environment to make those times less lonely.
- Help others despite your pain. I have found an experience like service is a great way to escape my inner world and gain perspective.
- I have found tremendous strength and understanding by listening to podcasts, watching videos and reading books about real people who have gone through similar experiences to yours.
- My favourite; there’s nothing like changing scenery to get your mind off things. You can take a walk, drive or ride.
- Join a grief/bereavement support group. As soon as you start, you will realise that you are not alone.
I’d love to share your coping with grief story too.
I intend to expand the blog and resources on the website to include stories of other people who have lost a loved one, not limited to losing a spouse. I’d love to hear about how you handled grief. Would you please let me know if you would like to share your story.
I am also open to having anyone anonymised if that’s your preferred option. Complete the contact us form with the text “I would like to share my story.”
To Be Continued Next Wednesday…
I would like to hear from you. Would you please share your thoughts, comments and reflections below? Thank you.