Dear Papa Bear,
I feel I have closed myself off from most of my family and friends the last couple months. In December I had two family members and a dog die, and January I had another family member and dog die. My family in the house tried to soften the blow by getting a new puppy. But I feel that out of everyone in my house and at school I've been spending most of my time either locked away in my room or with the puppy. I don't know why but I just feel like either I'm dismantling myself from others or I'm just slipping under the radar and they don't notice me. How do I try to fix this?
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I am so sorry for the loss of your family members and your dear pet. It’s not uncommon for people who experience personal loss like this to withdraw into themselves. When you suffer multiple losses like this, one train of thought that those in mourning might have is this: “The fewer people I have in my life, the less vulnerable I will be to loss. And if there is no one in my life that I feel love for, I will never have to suffer the pain of losing a loved one ever again.”
But isolating yourself like this is not the answer; it will only lead to more depression and sadness. You must realize this, Trademark, since you wrote to Papabear for help, so I’m glad you did.
What your family did—giving you a new puppy—was nice, but it doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, in a way, it is avoiding the problem, sort of like sitting a young child in front of a television because mom and dad don’t feel like spending time with their kid. What you and your family should be doing is talking about your shared loss, even though that is hard to do.
I know it will be difficult, but what you need to do is force yourself, little by little, to interact with people again. It’s kind of like going to the gym for the first time. You really don’t want to do it; it makes your muscles sore and you get all sweaty and you get embarrassed maybe because you can’t lift very much weight, but, if you work at it consistently, you will get better and even enjoy working out. Same with overcoming this urge to become a hermit in your own home.
Start by selecting the family member with whom you feel the closest bond—especially someone who was as close to the departed as you were—and start talking to him or her about what you are feeling. Share memories of the person who has gone, but do so in a celebratory way. What do I mean? I mean celebrate the good memories you have of them and don’t focus on how much you miss them (that’s a given). This is what is done in traditions such as the Irish wake and the New Orleans jazz funeral procession. Focus on the joy and how lucky you were to know this person in your life while they were here.
Sharing these things with your family will bring you closer together, bonding you more tightly in a loving, spiritual sense than you ever have been before. It will also remind you to appreciate those who are still with you in the here and now.
The secret to healing, Trademark, is not isolation; it is bonding and celebration. The first few steps may be hard, but they are essential. We all suffer losses in our lives. Learning to cope with them, and to grow stronger because of them, will enhance your life by giving you a better appreciation for all the joys still to be experienced.
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