Two family bereavements within a few months left me reeling – more so than I realised at the time. Now, 8 months after the second, I’m just emerging from all the fallout. Only now, looking back, can I see how deeply I’ve been affected and how tough and lonely life has felt for the past year or so.
The loneliness of this time is what strikes me now. I have so many friends, but have felt that I’ve been very alone as I’ve worked through the impacts of 2 deaths. It’s really only now that I can see more clearly both what my own needs have been and how others might have helped. Consequently, I didn’t ask for support, not realising how much I was in need of it – and once the first few weeks were over, friends presumably thought I was OK or that someone else was helping. I’ve noticed before that this happens: where people would be very concerned about a family member in this situation and would continue to watch out for them, single people seem to be seen either as having emotional resources denied to the rest of humanity, or, perhaps, as so lacking a normal emotional life that they’re not as affected by difficult circumstances!
For the past few months it’s been really difficult to get myself out and socialise, to plan to do things, to invite people here. Yet those are vital for the mental health of the sociable person who lives alone : we always have to make that effort if we’re to have company and interaction. (I’m an introvert, but a sociable one, so though, on the whole, I appreciate my solitude, I do also need human interaction if I’m to stay more or less sane). I think that’s an issue that those living with others often don’t understand: the day by day energy-demanding efforts that have to be made to stay connected. At difficult times, that necessary energy isn’t always there and isolation quickly results, at the worst possible time.
For those months I needed other people to make some of that effort for me: I needed my friends, I needed to be taken out of the trough of grief, to be given space to talk, sometimes to be distracted, or just to be given a meal and looked after for a few hours, to feel cherished. I usually do all that for myself: but for the past year or so that has sometimes been beyond me.
I’m not writing this in self-pitying mode – at least I hope not. It was as it was, because people just didn’t understand or appreciate what would have helped, and I wasn’t in a place to articulate what I needed. Indeed, as I said above, I don’t think I understood what I needed either. Which is why I’m writing this.
Please, if you have a single friend who is in a traumatic place, because of grief or other loss, be aware. Be aware for months, maybe a year or two. It’s no huge deal, no big commitment – no in-depth counselling or having them move in with you – just invite them from time to time without expecting them to take their turn at the entertaining for a while; meet up and give them space to talk (I’ve become so aware of how I listen, listen, listen, and everyone seems to assume that I never need to do some of the sharing!); take the initiative in suggesting outings; don’t assume that if they’ve gone quiet or are putting cheery posts on Facebook the grief must be over, they must be happily busy and don’t need to hear from you.
Grief goes on for some time for ALL of us, and the grieving process can be particularly tough for those who have to process it alone and without the day to day companionship, support and distractions of partner and family. Be aware of the situation your friend is in, be unobtrusively alongside, don’t expect too much – that may be all that’s needed. And, crucially, be prepared to give her that for the time it takes to begin to heal from grief, not just for the obvious first week or so.
It will be appreciated and remembered, and eventually she WILL invite you for a meal again, honest!