“We don’t see many people these days,” my husband commented.
“I know,” I answered. “It’s because of our multiple losses.”
After our twin grandchildren lost their parents in separate car crashes in 2007 we became their legal guardians and conservators — roles that required tremendous time and documentation. Then two more family members died. Grieving for four loved ones while raising grandchildren is the hardest thing we have ever done.
Coming to terms with one death is hard, but coming to terms with four is much harder. According to Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD, Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition, the American culture does not encourage mourners to express their grief. He makes this point in his article, “Helping Dispel 5 Common Myths About Grief.”
Our culture tells mourners to carry on, according to Wolfelt, to keep our chin up and stay busy. “So, they [mourners] end up grieving within themselves in isolation, instead of mourning outside of themselves and in the presence of loving companions.”
The University of Texas cites the isolation of grief in a website article, “Life After Loss: Dealing with Grief.” It says a person who has suffered sudden loss may have sleep disturbances, nightmares, distressing thoughts, depression, severe anxiety, and social isolation. “The length of grief is different for everyone,” the article explains. “There is no predictable schedule for grief.”
There is no predictable for multiple losses either. My stages of grief were not absolute and often overlapped. It took several months for me to realize I was grieving for my loved ones in the order they died. Though a small group of friends encouraged me to express my grief, they were the exception.
Why do multiple losses increase isolation? In our case, becoming a GRG (grandparent raising grandchildren) made us isolated. While friends were visiting relatives, taking cruises, and attending conferences, we were at home with our twin grandchildren. Our interests are different, too.
The number of losses is another cause of isolation. Bob Deits, author of “Life After Loss,” describes grief as a test of endurance. He thinks it takes at least two or three years to work through a death. We cannot expect someone who is grieving for several loved ones to bounce back instantly. I still have days when I cannot believe my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law died within nine months.
Lack of information about multiple losses also contributes to isolation. Many friends were so stunned by my story they did not know what to say or how to help. The bereaved person has a sense of impoverishment, according to Judy Tatelbaum, author of “The Courage to Grieve,” and needs companionship. Your friends may not be able to provide companionship at this time.
The power of secondary losses is yet another reason for isolation. Each death creates dozens of secondary losses. In some instances, the pain of the secondary losses is greater than the deaths. When my daughter died, for example, I losy Sunday dinners with her, family stories, common interests, such as decorating, traveling with her, and the satisfaction of seeing her excel in life.
Other factors may contribute to isolation. You may have a chronic illness, be a family caregiver, or forced to move. Still, you may get help from friends, your religious community, social services, national groups, relatives and neighbors. We can emerge from our isolation cocoons and soar like butterflies.
Copyright 2010 by Harriet Hodgson