Life continues to be interesting. Depending on where you live, and the status of your vaccination schedule, your life may be seeing signs of returning to some sort of pre-pandemic normalcy. While many of us have been craving and dreaming of being out in the world, now that the reality is getting closer, many of us are also feeling anxious about what this may actually look like.
Many people I have spoken to, both personally and professionally, are concerned about social anxiety, loss of confidence and fear of leaving their homes after almost 15 months of being stuck at home. On one hand, we want to be out and about, yet on the other, our Covid routines are safe and predictable. In March 2020, our world ground to a screeching halt, and we adjusted. And, it is reopening at a slower rate, giving us time to re-enter with awareness.
The following three interesting articles speak to this return to society. This commentary from the Guardian suggests ways to re-approach friends that have fallen to the wayside during the pandemic.
This weekend the world was given an image of the loneliness of grief. On April 17, 2021, many people in the world watched as the British Royal Family said goodbye to Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at his funeral service in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Through media coverage, we were granted an intimate view of a family in mourning. No matter our opinion of the monarchy, it’s important to remember that this is a family that is grieving the loss of a husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Prince Philip would have celebrated his 100th birthday this June.
A Common Experience
While we are probably not a member of a royal family, many of us have shared this experience of losing and honouring a loved one during this pandemic. We can relate to having to limit the number of guests who can attend the service and internment. We know what it’s like to maintain physical distance from our friends and family members when what we need more than anything is a hug and words of comfort whispered in our ear.
Part of the original plan for Prince Philip’s funeral was that his coffin would be carried by a custom-built Land Rover hearse (Prince Philip designed it himself) through the streets of London in order for the public to pay their respects and say their farewells. Understandably this didn’t happen. We also know the pain of not being able to honour our loved one in the way that they may have pre-arranged themselves or as we would like to do for them.
A Woman Alone
One of the most poignant images from the service is that of Queen Elizabeth sitting alone. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, only thirty people were able to be in the church. Those in attendance had to sit in their household ‘bubbles’. This wife is now alone in her bubble.
For a minute, let’s forget the famous identity of this woman and think of her as a fellow human. Elizabeth met Philip when she was thirteen years old. Philip was 18. Apparently, for Elizabeth, it was “love at first sight”. For eight years they continued their relationship through letters until they were able to marry when Elizabeth was 21.
As a married couple, they set up a household, had children and worked at their careers. Sadly, a few years into their marriage, Elizabeth’s father died suddenly. This meant that Elizabeth had to take over the family business. Philip, knowing how important this work was to his wife and her family, had already agreed that he would support her in this endeavour—even if it meant stepping back from his career.
When Philip died, they had been married for almost 74 years. Throughout those years, their relationship weathered good times and bad. They worked together on common goals—supporting each other along the way. Elizabeth was heard to say soon after her husband’s death, “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years…”
And now…like many other people who have lost a spouse, Elizabeth is without ‘her person’.
How Can We Help?
Unless we personally know Queen Elizabeth, there isn’t anything we can do for her. However, I think she represents many grieving people that we do know.
One of the most common things I hear as a therapist is that people mourning the loss of a loved one (no matter the connection to them), is that they are surrounded by care and support immediately following their person’s death. However, over time, the check-in calls dwindle away, notes and emails stop and offers to spend time together become farther and farther apart. Others go back to their own lives, and the person in mourning is left sitting alone. The loneliness of grief is intense.
While being busy can be the way of life for everyone, what the griever experiences is a ‘secondary’ loss.
We can think of it this way…imagine a still pond of water. A large rock is dropped into the pond sending large ripples away from where the rock entered. This rock symbolizes the death of the loved one and the ripples are the major changes that happen in the griever’s life.
As the ripples move away from the initial point of contact, they become less violent—yet they still make waves—upsetting the surface of the pond. These are the secondary losses. The difficult thing is that they tend to happen as the bereaved is coming out of the shock phase that follows the death of a loved one, and are experiencing active grief experiences such as grief bursts (sudden crying jags), sleep issues (too much or too little), and grief brain (brain fog).
If you know someone who is grieving, please stick around. I know that life is busy, and it doesn’t take much. In fact, you often don’t even need to say anything. One client shared with me that one of the most comforting things a friend did for them was to show up for regularly scheduled walks. This wise friend let them take the emotional lead. Sometimes they needed to talk, other times to laugh or cry. Often, they needed to be quiet together and not feel quite so alone.
And now…here’s a wonderful video from grief therapist, Megan Devine, on How to Help a Grieving Friend. Enjoy!
Are you rooted? ?If you are a gardener, your first thought may be about plants; but I’m talking about being connected to a place.
When our?children were preschoolers, my husband and I seriously considered moving ?from our home?to a bigger city in order to be closer to family members. ?We had arrived in?our city due ?to employment,?and the plan had been?to stay for a few years before moving on.
As part of the decision-making process we listed all the things that we would like to have in a new community. ?What would we miss by moving away? ?How could we replace the doctor we relied upon, my hairstylist who had been part of our?children’s first haircuts? Where could we find a?neighbourhood park that we loved as much as the one we already had? ?What about our friends and neighbours?
After creating many lists of the pros and cons of going vs. staying; we decided to stay. We could visit family, and so many things about our community were irreplaceable. We were rooted.
The Importance of Being Rooted
“To be rooted”, philosopher Simone Weil once wrote, “is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” ?When we are rooted, we feel that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. ?We have a vested interest in the health of our community. ?We develop a sense of ‘hometown pride’. ?We care.
When we feel attached to our community, we’re more likely to be social and volunteer. We feel a connection to our local economy?and may support neigbourhood businesses by spending our money locally. ?As we learn more about our community, we may support local farmers at the market or join a Community Shared Agriculture group.
A key benefit is that the system is reciprocal…when we give to our community, it gives back. ?Our support systems grow, there are more local choices, and there is a sense of belonging that we experience when we walk down the street and say ‘hello’ to?people that we know, or the local barrista already knows our order when we walk in the cafe.
Being Rooted in our Community is Good for Us
Research confirms that being rooted in our community is good for us. ?In the July/August 2016 issue of ?Psychology Today,? author Melody Warnick (in her article”Right Where You Belong“) describes a study conducted in Tokyo. ?This study?discovered that elderly Japanese women who felt attached to their neighbourhood were more likely to be alive five years later than were women who didn’t care about their communities. ?For women who liked where they lived and also interacted with their neighbours, their chance of survival compared to more ambivalent residents increased by 6 percent.
In her book Lonely: ?Learning to Live with Solitude, Emily White describes her experience with loneliness. ?She cites many studies that show the connection between loneliness, loss of health and increased mortality. ?However, we may be less lonely and have an already-developed support system in place when we are rooted in our community. ?These support systems are there when life becomes difficult.
Rootedness In Practice
When I think about support systems, I ?often remember a particular example of individuals being rooted in their community. ?There was?a group of widows that attended the same church. ?As Sundays can be difficult for people on their own, this group of women would plan a day’s worth of activities (church and lunch, followed by a matinee or concert). ?By the time each arrived home, the day was mostly over– they had connected to others and enjoyed themselves. ?These women made?a point of including anyone they knew who needed to take part in this group–especially new widows. ?Participation ebbed and flowed, and the group continued to be there when needed. ?They looked out for each other.
Being Rooted Takes Effort
Being rooted and building community are reciprocal, and takes effort. ?For many years a laminated copy of this poster hung beside our door. ?It was a reminder?of how to grow roots. ?It recommended:
Turn off your TV
Leave your house
Know your neighbors
Look up when you are walking
Sit on your stoop
Use your library
Buy from local merchants
Share what you have
Help a lost dog
Take children to the park
Support neighborhood schools
Fix it even if you didn’t break it
Pick up litter
Read stories aloud
Dance in the street
Talk to the mail carrier
Listen to the birds
Put up a swing
Help carry something heavy
Barter for your goods
Start a tradition
Ask a question
Hire young people for odd jobs
Organize a block party
Bake extra and share
Ask for help when you need it
Open your shades
Share your skills
Take back the night
Turn up the music
Turn down the music
Listen before you react to anger
Mediate a conflict
Seek to understand
Learn from new and uncomfortable angles
Know that no one is silent although many are not heard. Work to change this.
These ideas may sound like a lot of work, and the payback is tremendous–much more than is originally put in…and it’s good for us and others!
Now, for a flashback to how some of us learned about community; here’s some vintage Sesame Street. ?Enjoy!
This is a re-post that was originally posted in January 2017.? Enjoy!
Once upon a time I was given the gift of seeing?a real-life support system in action.? I was invited, as one of a few non-Old Order Mennonite women, to attend a quilting bee. The room was very quiet as 16 women sat around a large quilt frame?each of us focused on the task at hand.
Breaking the silence,?one of the women stated that a young woman in their community had recently given birth.? Another commented that the baby was unwell.? Over the next 20 minutes, these women quietly put a circle of care in place around this family.? Meal drop-offs were planned, house support was organized, child-care for the baby?s siblings was put into place, and daily check-ins were arranged.? These women activated?a support system for this family as naturally and easily as they made the small stitches they were adding to the quilt.
I?ve thought about this experience often over the years as I?ve watched others struggle when there has not been a support system in place.? Independence is seen as such a positive attribute in our culture, but at what cost?? When we strive to do everything ourselves, we not only run the risk of being overwhelmed in times of need, but deprive ourselves of the joy that comes from supporting others and building community.
We may not live in an organized community, such as the Old Order Mennonites, but we do have relationships.
Levels of Relationship
While no two relationships are identical; I believe that they can be divided into the following four levels:
Level One?relationships are those we share?with casual acquaintances?a clerk in a store, our bank teller, the barista at the coffee shop on the corner.? The topics of conversation tend to be about light, surface topics such as ?the weather?.
Level Two relationships are the ones that go deeper than those in Level One, with people we see more frequently.? One example may be?with a co-worker?we would tell them that we?re going on vacation and give basic details?when, where, who with?but little else.
When we spend time with our friends, we are engaging in Level Three relationships.? Confidences are shared, we may see them often, and there is a comfort and familiarity.? To continue the vacation example?we would tell them why we?re going, what our dreams are for the trip, and send them personal updates during the adventure.
Level Four relationships are the ones that are rare.? The people who are at this level, are those that we can phone at any time of the day or night because we need them?either for help or to share good news.? We know that they have our backs and will always be there for us.? This is usually a reciprocal relationship.
Building a Support System
Building a support system requires a willingness to look up from our lives and notice those around us.? It requires the courage to be vulnerable and ask for help when we need it.? It requires the willingness to share our time and resources.? Being able to trade independence for interdependence?to not only give, but also to ask for help is crucial.
All levels of relationships are needed in a support system.? Simply listening to the elderly person standing in line with you at the grocery store as he talks about his grandchildren, is a way of being part of a support system.? You?ve never met him before and you may be the only person he talks to all day.?? Noticing that your co-worker is looking tired and asking what?s going on is being part of a support system.? Telling your friends that you?re feeling overwhelmed and asking for help is being part of a support system.
As we take the time to do this, our relationships deepen (go from Levels 1 to 3 or 4), our community widens and our support system grows.? You can think of support systems as a group of concentric, interlocking circles.
Start Where You Are
Early on, when I work with clients as they cope with challenges, I ask them about their support systems.? Many will respond that they don?t have one.? For some, as we tease out their relationships, they are amazed that they have more supports than they thought?especially if they are willing to be vulnerable enough to ask for help.? For others, I?ve become their first support as we work on finding others that they can call on.
There are a multitude of groups (specific to various challenges) as well as crisis lines that can provide help and ongoing support when necessary.? A list of some helpful numbers is included in the resources section of this website.
Learning to ask for and give help is like building?muscle. ?The more we at it, the easier the process?becomes. ?Below is a TED Talk by Amanda Palmer who developed her ‘asking’ muscle in a very interesting way. ?Enjoy!