Some social aspects of grieving and living in the world:
This appears to be quite different for each of us and for each of the people we know. One of the things I’ve talked to other bereaved people about is how in a lot of instances, people who knew us as part of a couple and we ourselves for the same reasons, become uncomfortable when we get together. Often, either we or they or both of us are uncomfortable with that dynamic and don’t know how to react, what to say or we have that third wheel feeling that someone is missing enter into the interaction.
Often too, one partner was very much the more social in a marriage and so if that person is no longer there, it can be very difficult to pick up the social connections and responsibilities and until we learn how to do it, many of our old and usually no new social interactions work well or in many cases are even possible to maintain or form.
As an expansion of this idea, as part of the grieving process and often as a result of our bereavements, many people find that old friends drop away because they don’t know or aren’t comfortable with us as single persons when they knew us as part of a couple. Very often, they don’t know what to say or if it’s ok to remember or talk about our loved ones. Their discomfort and their really wanting us to go back to being the person they remember and knew may make them withdraw their company and support in our lives, either slowly or quickly depending on who they are.
We may also find ourselves withdrawing from old friendships as we lose commonality with those people we knew as couples and those who have not experienced what we have and who say or do things that end up being hurtful to us even when they might only have been trying to help.
Learning to make new friends:
Our society doesn’t often provide people much help dealing with grief. Because it is often hidden or little talked about, most people really don’t know what to say or do or how to act around a bereaved person. That may become especially obvious when bereavement continues beyond a relatively short time and when people want you to stop talking about it and the “get over it” thoughts begin to surface in other peoples minds, words or actions.
Under these circumstances and others we might encounter, many of us find that we can become isolated and estranged from friends and support systems in our daily lives and sometimes even our families don’t know what to do or say as time goes by and we are still bereaved.
One of the first tasks I set for myself after I began to overcome my inertia and I began to move forward in my bereavement, was the making of friends. I realized fairly early that since I had no family and actually no friends at all living nearby, that I was going to have to develop a support system and a group of friends I could visit with and call on for help if I needed it and who could also call on me in the same way.
I used to be a fairly shy person when I found myself in a purely social situation and that, in part, made me fairly worried that I would become isolated and not have anyone to talk to or to call on for help in an emergency. The building of friendships and just the act of meeting new people was going to be a major undertaking for me that was filled with fears and insecurities that I needed to face and overcome while I learned to be friendly and social with people I didn’t know.
How do you even do that? How do you meet people and especially in your bereavement, how do you trust your instincts about who to approach or allow into your life. How can you separate out your desires and your replacement needs from your true wants for friendship. How do you keep control of your socializing and not let it mask and hide your grief so you don’t work on healing, just cover it up where unfortunately it can fester within us and reappear more severe than ever at a later time. How do we overcome gender social expectations and still stay comfortable and safe in our choices.
Some places/ways I thought of to meet people:
neighbors/friends of neighbors:
support groups/social opportunities associated with these groups
social, topic or interest driven meet up groups
gym/yoga classes/senior centers
bars, clubs, coffee houses
places of worship
I have tried most of these and each one had its own challenges, ways of interacting, successes and rewards as well as failures. It is something many of us will have to try at some point if we need to find new people in our lives. We all need to find our own way to do them and safely navigate the social requirements and patterns in each of the modalities we investigate. I can’t tell anyone how to do it, just that it turned out to be a very important growth area for me and learning it was a major and critical part of much of who and what I have become and was seminal in bringing me to a place where I could think about reasons for writing this blog.