As a chaplain, my entire theory of care has depended on one thing: presence. As I mentioned in my first blog of these series, “Longing for Hugs and Hands,” touch and physical presence can offer so much more than words in comforting one another. I am reflective today on the impact isolation has had on all of us due to the pandemic since I wrote my initial blog, “Longing for Hugs and Hands.” In many ways, there has been no real replacement for hugs or the physical presence of one another. But in another sense, we have learned so much about ourselves as a society and individually and how presence can be cultivated even in isolation.
In the grief process, we are asked to learn about ourselves and to listen to what we need. What lessons have we learned through this isolation about grieving touch and contact, about the grief of loneliness? Today’s blog, as requested by last week’s group participants, will explore some thoughts on the impact of loneliness on the body, mind, and spirit, as well as to offer some lessons we have encountered in this period of grieving one another’s presence.
In the early stages of the isolation due to this pandemic, we were able to see our sudden mandated restriction from one another as fairly temporary. Not having experienced something like this in recent decades, it began much-like someone who is new to the feeling of grief and who is anticipating a day when life will return to “normal.” However, after three months, our minds have integrated the isolation deeper into our being, which has led to severe feelings of loneliness for many.
The word “loneliness” is interesting to me during this pandemic because of the mandated quality of social distancing. When we are children navigating our family life and new to friendships the feeling of loneliness might be accompanied with feelings of rejection or abandonment. These feelings can continue into adulthood, and sometimes result in deep despair at times. However, loneliness due to social distancing is not because of rejection or abandonment. The word takes on an entirely new meaning in this unique situation! What I can “lift up” out of this reflection is that “loneliness” is not a sufficient word. What many of us have been feeling is a word such as “longingness.”
Closeness with one another is rewarding to us in so many ways. It has been shown to increase happiness and even immunity! So, in this confusing situation our minds are told to stop doing the thing that makes us feel good…so that we do not get sick and protect others. It is hard to wrap one’s mind around that! Of course, people have struggled with this, and it has exacerbated or uncovered so many areas of need and support. Our efforts to enter back into this world and into a summer experience that feels “normal” can be seen as that real and fragile human truth: we deeply need one another.
So in a truly paradoxical way, one could make the argument that the loneliness (or longingness) we as an entire society are experiencing right now affirms that what we are feeling is not rejection or abandonment, it is the validation that we need each other, and we long for one another. From a place of longing, is hope. Steps to protect one another, while still connecting and showing love can flourish in creative ways when there is hope that our longing will be satiated someday. As in grief work, when one feels fully broken by the loss of their loved one, that person must feel supported that one day they will feel joy, happiness, and connection again. Reinvestment in our lives is the only way forward.
So what lessons have we learned in this isolation? I can tell you I have learned the value of so much I took for granted that I have unexpectedly missed and longed for, such as friendly banter with complete strangers in passing in a store, going to a restaurant, or outside for a walk. I miss that feeling of joy in finding connection with people I do not know. I have learned that without physical presence, people can connect with laughter and tears over a virtual video chat. I will now have to expand my understanding of “ministry of presence” as a chaplain.
I have seen quite incredible ways to push against this loneliness. We have had to get more creative in how we reach each other’s senses. We have to find new language. We have had to work harder and say more in order to communicate. When two friends share lunch over video chat on their phones, they have to work harder to describe their meal and what they are feeling and experiencing. This can only deepen our understanding of ourselves and one another. The difficult weeks of those who live alone through this pandemic have led to incredible outcomes in self-reflection, and self-care as well. But though all these lessons, as we move ahead into many unknowns; we must carry this wisdom with us, and guard ourselves against the darkness of loneliness, and affirm the hope of longingness. Cultivating this longingness will help us to stay invested in ourselves, in those around us, and in our society.
I invite you to comment and share what lessons social distancing has taught you over the past three months. Does the word “longingness” fit more into your experience than “loneliness?” Join me for our Touchpoint group on Tuesday at 2 PM. It generally lasts about one and a half hours.
Click the link below for more information on how to join us, everyone is welcome, no registration required. If you would like to schedule one-on-one support with me via Zoom, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org