Dear Annie: ***I was widowed last year. I have wonderful, thoughtful friends and family, but I’m just not ready to “get out more.”
I know they worry I’m lonely. I’m busy with work and do meet up with people. Yet this doesn’t really fill the void. In fact, I do get lonely. But sometimes I feel lonelier in the company of others, as though I’m somehow apart. Should I make more of an effort? I do appreciate how they try to include me in so many things. – BD
Annie says: What I can hear is that you are very aware of the concern your friends have for you and their wish for you to find happiness, but feel pressure to take their advice to ‘get out more’ even though it doesn’t feel right to you.
Even in the early stages of grief, it’s still so hard to escape the burden of social ‘shoulds’. This sounds in part a consequence of one of the major distancing effects of grief – its length. For many of your friends and family, they will consider a year being a long time – long enough perhaps – and so they will of course think it’s reasonable to expect you to socialise more.
But anyone who has experienced the loss of someone close, particularly a spouse will know that a year is a blink of an eye – and very often the start of some of the more painful feelings emerging, not their retreat. So the simple answer to your question about making more of an effort is ‘no’.
The caveat is there’s a ‘but’ – which is to allow yourself to reflect on whether there is a chance you might get something good from going out more. It’s not impossible. Sometimes it’s about getting back into the habit, especially if we haven’t done it for a long time. I really understand that experience of feeling lonelier with other people than being alone. But I suspect it’s not all the time.
So maybe next time there is an offer on the table, just check in with yourself, imagine the situation and see if you can gauge whether this will be a lonely option, or has the glimmer of possibility in it. Finally, talk to your friends and family about this – explain it to them. They clearly care deeply for you and want to do right by you through this experience – so guide them a little bit. I have no doubt they’ll be grateful for it.
If you’ve lost someone close to you, or been affected by a bereavement, psychotherapist Annie Broadbent is here to help. If you have a question for her to answer in this column, write to her at DearAnnie@funeralguide.com
Annie Broadbent is a trained psychosynthesis counsellor, with specialist experience working with the bereaved. As a therapist she explores the mind, body, feelings and spirit, working with individuals in a way that is most appropriate for them.
She is the author of bestselling self-help book We Need to Talk About Grief, inspired by personal experiences of living through bereavement, including her own. Whilst writing her book, Annie volunteered at St Christopher's Hospice and has given a number of talks on issues around grief, bereavement and mental health.