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The "Isolation" Phase of Shock


Last month, I wrote about the “discovery” phase of the shock stage of grief and it is in this phase that many issues come to light. Every loss is different and there is no exact pattern to the discovery phase but there are often surprises that arise when a death occurs in a family. These surprises can alter the course of relationships and may have life long consequences. Revelations can add to the shock of a loss causing a period of “isolation” for each survivor in a family group to contemplate.

The isolation phase of “Shock” is often very scary for a bereaved person(s) because the reality of the loss has not totally been realized. This is a phase where there is a secret belief that their loved one is not gone forever. They are just away for a while. This must be dream because being alone is just not possible in their mind. We get used to a person being in our life especially when they have been there for a long period, decades or even our entire life. It can be the case that the restriction of learning some people who were once trusted are not to be relied upon only creates another complication. It may be too difficult to understand. The realization of being isolated is just another emotional “bomb” that is exploded in the life of a bereaved person.

Isolation can be a defining area of shock because personal coping skills are not well developed and making decisions is difficult. Questions like, “How did this happen?” “Why did this happen?” “What did I do to deserve this?” “Why am I here?”. Sometimes the bereaved do not want anyone to be around them. A person knows they are in the isolation phase when others stop paying attention to them. Examples of others “moving on” are when they stop bringing casseroles and no longer make phone calls to them.

Another area indicating this phase is when a person may look around and notice that their environment may be frozen in time. Mail, dust, and clutter may be building up that would normally be handled efficiently. Cleaning up may be good therapy in this period since there are no distractions. It is a time to become reacquainted with pets and having a sense of place. It is the case of many people that the space where their loved one principally occupied is memorialized by just leaving their former living area untouched.

It is entirely normal for a person who feels isolated to act in ways that may appeared odd to a detached observer. They are coping with their loss by the only means they know at the time. There is a comfort in having the belongings or a sense of familiarity around a person in these circumstances. They are not ready to move on and are protecting their psyche from further disruption. The shock stage of grief is a form of protection. It gives a person “distance” from a tragedy.

The energy of shock and the isolation phase can be felt by others. We just know when to leave a person alone and allow them to have their space. Isolation has its’ place in the shock stage of grief and can be viewed as a measure of respect for a person who is suffering. It is a phase where a person begins to absorb matters surrounding their loss and move to the next phase of shock. When we are alone we start to cope with the full impact of our loss. The next phase of shock is another kind of natural defense mechanism that must be experienced. It is the phase of just feeling numb.

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