Have I given you all an ear worm now? I started out with LeAnne Rimes lyrics “loving you, isn’t something I should really do” – but it didn’t quite fit with what I want to write…so now I have both songs mingling in my head!
A few weeks ago, I was watching a conversation on Twitter, someone was being open about the depressive episode they were going through at the time, and many others were sending (virtual) hugs and other words of support. This particular tweep commented that while they appreciated the thought, real hugs weren’t actually something they wanted right then, and another person responded that they’d felt the same when they were grieving the loss of a loved one – they didn’t want the contact, and couldn’t feel the support even though they knew it was well intentioned. But they did say, once they’d got out of the deepest depths of grief, they were really grateful for the love, support and hugs that were still given to them during that time, and that that was what got them through.
It got me thinking about how I felt after my miscarriage last year, and after that day earlier this year when my world fell apart. I didn’t want to be hugged by anyone, not even my husband, and to be honest months down the track there are still only a select few that I’m happy to be hugged by (and of course that changes with each situation). And when people told me they loved me, or were sending love to me, it didn’t mean anything to me – logically I knew it was a kind thing to say, but I just couldn’t feel it. Again, even with my husband I couldn’t feel the love when I told him I loved him or if he’d said it to me – but on some logical level, I knew my survival, and our marriages survival was relying on me to say and do these things even though I couldn’t feel them. So I made myself say them, and made myself hug my husband and a select few others, hoping that one day it would stop being an effort, and I’d actually feel the love that I was told surrounded me.
In my foggy grief stricken haze I could vaguely see that I was closing in on myself, and blocking everyone else away – it’s a common survival mechanism after all. The thing that struck me most though, was that not many people could see (or at least acknowledge) that that’s what I was doing. So they allowed themselves to be pushed away, gave me time and space to heal & grieve my way. But what I realised on some level then, and even more so in hindsight, was that the few connections that remained were vitally important. And I could have done with more. If everyone lets themselves be pushed away, then the result…..is I’m left alone, with only my head for company. Humans are social creatures, we need connections with others, loneliness causes as many if not more health issues as things like smoking. Yet, we are so quick to think “I don’t know what to do, I’ll just leave them, give them time to heal”, waiting until the person dealing with grieve, depression etc is ready to connect again.
Now I realise there’s a fine line between not giving someone space so they’re not lonely, and overcrowding them. But I’d suggest risk the over crowding, because you might be the only one stepping into that space and giving them a life line to hold on to while dealing with their pain.
So if you know someone grieving I suggest you find ways no matter how small, to maintain some connection with them, so if they want to talk or need company the space is not too big for them to cross. Tell them you don’t know what to say or do – they probably have no idea either, because when you’re that down you have no idea whats going to help. But acknowledging that, helps being people together. Send little texts every few days, so they’re not alone. Drop off baking or a meal – home cooking is often loaded with love, and that sometimes gets through….knowing someone did something specially for you, might not seem to make it through the clouds of pain right then….but it will be remembered, like a glimmer of light, later. Send them a card, treat them like you did before what ever happened – as in don’t contact them less, don’t stop inviting them to things etc. Even just saying ‘you might not be up for it, but if you are we’d love to see your face” or words to that effect. Tell them you want to visit, or go out for coffee etc, and then ask when – if action is reduced to one decision its so much easier to handle.
And by doing these little things, you make it easy for them to dip their toes back into life again when they’re ready, the space around them isn’t so big it feels scary to step across, you minimise any awkwardness they might be feeling, and most of all you keep them wrapped in a bubble of connection and love….that one day will break through that protective ice barrier, and they’ll learn to feel love again and to give love again.
Please, what ever you do, don’t let someone grieve alone – even when they push you away.