Grief is lonely and isolating. Not one other person can totally understand how you feel. Your relationship with your deceased loved one is unique and so is your grief. Bereaved often feel alone and isolated; even members of the same family grieve differently and cannot truly appreciate how you might feel.
If not being understood isn’t frustrating enough, the fact that others don’t know how to act around you and even go as far as avoiding you, certainly can make you feel alone. You may have experienced it in the grocery store…you spot your neighbor at the end of the aisle and then you notice she turns her cart around and heads the other way. You may get this feeling that since the death of your loved one you are being excluded from neighborhood social gatherings or that you are no longer invited to happy hour after work.
Discussions in grief support often center around the fact that the bereaved feel they are being treated differently by friends, co-workers, neighbors and even their own family members. As you can imagine, those grieving do not appreciate this treatment.
It is important to know and understand not to take the “avoidance” behavior personally. As a society, we do not do death and grief well, therefore we do all we can to avoid it. Your friends and co-workers are avoiding you because they do not know how to treat the “new” you. A death has changed you and it is uncomfortable and awkward for some to accept this. They want the “former” you back who laughs and jokes and is energetic.
Maybe knowing and understanding that people avoid you because of their own issues with death and dying will help to ease your feelings of isolation and loneliness. If not, you can approach those who evade you and talk to them about it. Let them know that although you are grieving you are still interested in being invited to social outings. Even if you say no to the invite it is nice to be included. They might need to be guided in how to “be” around the new you.
A woman in support group shared how during the dying, death and grief surrounding the loss of her husband she guided and supported others through the process, more so than others helping her. I experienced this first hand at the recent death of my father. Now, in situations where I am seeing a friend, neighbor, co-worker or relative for the first time, I can feel the “elephant in the room”. I can see it in their face and body language that the person is wondering if they should bring up my dad’s death or ask how I am doing. I help them out by sharing a memory of my dad or I mention how my mom is doing. In other words, I talk about the elephant it the room! You can actually see the relief on their face when the subject is addressed and we move on to the next topics of kids, weather, sports, etc.
Yes, people will avoid you! It is awful and it hurts, but don’t take it personally and rather than get annoyed by it you might want to choose to teach and guide your friends and co-workers through your grief.
Do you have an experience to share when you felt you were being avoided?