Feelings of isolation and loneliness are common for many people, but they are far more difficult to deal with when you are bereaved.
Here are some ideas from our team of volunteer befrienders that may help.
1. Think about who is supportive to you in your environment and what gives your life purpose and direction (family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, clubs, athletic activities, groups, church groups, support groups, bereavement counsellor). Who are you most comfortable with, and who is the most comfortable (accepting and caring) with your grief? Look for those who will listen without judging you, or for those who have suffered a similar loss. So many of us have been brought up to be independent. ‘I’m going to handle this grief myself.’ We find it difficult to ask for help. Yet we need help. Asking for help from caring people can make a big difference in working through your grief. Force yourself to reach out for help. Be honest with others about what you’re feeling and allow yourself to express your sadness rather than masking it.
2. Be aware of a lowered self-esteem. We might think to ourselves, ‘I don’t like the person I’ve become, no-one wants to spend time with me, everyone else is happy and has friends to talk to.’ Often it is the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves that we should be handling our grief better – but no doubt we are doing better than we give ourselves credit. We may feel as if we are ‘going crazy’ or our grief is ‘out of control.’ This is common in bereaved people. It is important to realise that grief takes time. Much more time than we think it should. Be patient with yourself. If you are struggling over a longer period, a cognitive behavioural therapist can help with negative thoughts.
3. We often hear ‘Time will heal’. Yes, time does soften the hurt a little, but mainly it is what we do with time that matters: read, talk, struggle with the phases, get help when we become stuck in a phase, be gentle with ourselves, lower our expectations, take time to build new memories with family and friends.
4. Don’t expect others to guess what you need. When you want to be touched, held, hugged, listened to or pampered, say so. If all you want from others is help with simple errands, tasks, and repairs, say so. Let others (especially children) know if and when you need to be alone, so they won’t feel rejected.
5. Go somewhere and have a good, long cry – and do it as often as you wish. You have every right to miss the person who has died. Accept your feelings as normal. Crying is therapeutic as it releases stress hormones which helps the chemical balance in the brain. Don’t fight the tears.
6. Find time alone to process what’s happened: to remember, to dream, and to think.
7. Identify your loneliest times, and think of how you can alter your routines and environment (for example, rearrange the furniture in a room; plan your weekends ahead of time; use your microwave for quick, easy meals). Make the best of your alone time – do something constructive, therapeutic, or good for your health.
8. You can choose to bear with people who don’t say the right things. You can enlighten them about what you know of grief, or you can look to others who are more understanding to find the support you need. While some people really are thoughtless and don’t think before they speak, bear in mind that many well-meaning individuals have yet to experience a significant loss, so they really don’t know what grief feels like, or how to respond, or what to say. They aren’t deliberately trying to hurt you.
9. Realise that no one can totally understand the relationship you had with the person who has died.
10. Ask people to remember, talk about and share stories about the person who has died with you.
11. Intentionally place yourself in social settings. If you are not ready to join a group, start by simply going to public places like a garden centre, shops or the park.
12. Step out of your comfort zone – accept an invitation or initiate plans with someone. Resist the urge to cancel plans or be a no-show. Write an email, send a Facebook message, text a family member, send a letter or phone a friend. Ask people about themselves. Look for similarities in others, rather than differences. Say hello, smile, or make eye contact when walking down the street. Volunteer somewhere where you’re likely to have contact with other people. Join a club where people have similar interests to your own.
13. Check frequently that you have balance in your life – work, recreation (including exercises, hobbies, reading), adequate rest and prayer. Insufficient sleep plagues many bereaved people. It may be helpful to give up all caffeine and alcohol. Physical exercise helps you to relax and makes you sleepy – go for a run, cycle ride, join an exercise class.
14. We may have handled grief by over-activity (being a workaholic, for example). If our previous style of grieving has not been helpful, we must be willing to try new approaches. Become more active in a support group; find telephone friends; read about grief; develop coping skills; be determined not to become stuck in our grief. Make the decision that you will work through your grief.
15. It may be helpful to consider that if you died, would you want your loved ones to mourn this deeply for the rest of their lives? You would want them to enjoy life as much as possible. They want this for you.
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