The ‘I’ Word You Never Expected with Grief

person sitting alone on stairs_black and white

What is the ‘I’ word you never expected with grief?  Is it ‘indecision?’  No, that’s not surprising.  So many things changed along with your loss – so indecision on your part is not unexpected.  How about being ‘incapacitated?’  Well, you certainly may feel weakened or powerless in the face of your loss, but that’s not unexpected either. 

The ‘I’ word you probably never expected with grief is ‘isolation.’  And isolation hurts.

Grief brings many internal as well as external changes – and particularly with the loss of a spouse or significant other – an identity crisis is common.  Your mate is gone and part of you died, too.  Your lives were so intertwined that you don’t even recognize what your life looks like now.  You feel out of place with people and in situations you were at home with before.  You can’t envision what your life will be going forward.  You feel separated.  Isolated.  And isolation becomes a reality you didn’t expect.

Why Isolation?

Your identity and sense of self have been shaken.  You don’t understand who you are now.  And you surely don’t know how (and where) you fit into your present life.  People see you in a different way now, and you see yourself differently.  It isn’t uncommon to feel out of place, regardless of whom you’re with or where you are.  The changes are huge.  And so are the adjustments you will make over time.

The overwhelming temptation is to isolate yourself.  It’s just easier.  And sometimes you simply don’t have the energy to make the effort to be around other people.  A certain amount of isolation is necessary because you must allow yourself some alone time to grieve.  However, too much isolation is detrimental to your healing.  You have to discover a happy medium.

Isolation is a surprise because you didn’t expect all of these internal and external changes.  You thought your friends and family would remain close and supportive – and some do.  However, others do not.  Some cannot handle the effects of loss and are uncomfortable around grief.  You are no longer part of a couple, and that changes things, too.  A certain social order exists, and a single person among married friends doesn’t fit into that natural order.  An invisible wall begins to creep into place.  And you feel awkward.  Self-conscious.  Separated.

What Can You Do?

How do you overcome this unexpected isolation?

When you’re ready, you begin to take small steps to re-enter life, rediscover your identity, and rebuild your social network.  You have to get your bearings and learn to be at home with yourself and your life as it now is. That takes time  –  and adjustment.  Sometimes you have to step outside of your comfort zone.  At least that was true for me as I began to rebuild my life.

As strange and uncomfortable as it may be at first, you will slowly find your way.  Isolation is painful and difficult.  In time and according to your own pace, you will reach the place when staying the same becomes more painful than stepping out and making changes that enable you to live and thrive again.  At that point, you’ll do what is necessary to overcome feelings of isolation and discomfort.

Knowing what to expect positions you to be proactive.  I didn’t know – and had to stumble along and find my way as I went.  Grief is an active process.  And healing from grief is also a process.  Take one small step at a time … and recognize each effort as progress.

The good news is that healing from grief is surely doable.  You can build a fulfilling life again alongside your loss.  It will be different, but it can still be good … 

© 2016 Judy Brizendine

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Related articles:
The Isolation of Grief – by Maria Kubitz,
Quiet and Solitude—Friends or Enemies during Grief? – by Judy Brizendine
How to Minimize Self-Imposed Isolation in Grief –
Grief and Loneliness – 10 signs you’ve been spending too much time alone –






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