The long run of isolation requires 'social cheerfulness'

  • The pandemic has forced people to stay home and alone, which is difficult for those who are grieving.

    The pandemic has forced people to stay home and alone, which is difficult for those who are grieving. Stock Photo

Posted10/24/2020 6:00 AM

I write about long-term grief. But now we are also faced with long-term "stay at home." It crept up on us. We are already at the seventh-month mark of relative isolation due to the awful coronavirus.

And now experts advise us to brace for another year of this ahead. We are definitely in for the long run. Oh, oh … and the important holiday season approaching.


Grief or long-term grief coupled with longtime isolation from "stay at home" is definitely a double whammy.

Our normal and busy social events and activities were canceled long ago. I personally had activities every day except Wednesdays and an occasional Saturday or Sunday.

All spring and summer, I spent lots of time sitting on the front porch enjoying nature, watching neighbors walk by with their cute doggies and enjoying an occasional front porch visit from one or two friends at a time. That was nice but porch visits are about ready to stop for the winter as it gets cooler and cooler. Soon no more porch sitting. No gardens to tend. No flowers to inspect and enjoy.

My own outside activities will be limited to going to the grocery store once every week or 10 days, to the bank drive-through twice a month, and to the post office counter occasionally. Pretty slim pickings!

I don't mean to be complaining, I'm just sayin' it's starting to sink into my consciousness that this is going to last for a long while, probably, a year or more. I'm sure all the fall and holiday events will be canceled as the calendar rolls forward. And I would not go anyway while under the threat of the COVID-19.

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It is a rather bleak outlook. But we cannot afford, from a personal health/social/psychological perspective, to sink into the trap of despair and negativity. That would take a toll. We will need some realistic optimism and fresh thinking.

So what shall we do to manage and cope with the long run? And, at the same time, manage and cope with grief or long-term grief. Well I've been thinking a lot about this, so what I can do is share my thinking so far:

• It will be necessary, once again, to invent a new everyday life. We already did that twice. Once when the death of our loved one happened. The second when the COVID-19 isolation started last March. Now we need a daily life for winter when we will be inside the house much more, and will be more isolated from family and friends (unless they live in the same household). This is a huge challenge and will take lots of creativity.

• On attitude -- obviously we have a problem and cannot just sugarcoat it. But we can take charge of our own situation and figure out some way to create a pleasant everyday routine, and do our best to keep from being overwhelmed by negative feelings and frustrations. I do not suggest faking positivity but we can learn to from others.


For example, my dear friend Diane in Long Island is married to an Englishman and they are also trying to figure out how to deal with this coming winter. From her, I learned of two old British sayings, or attitudes, that will surely help in these coming months. One is "social cheerfulness." From what I understand, this does not mean pretending -- it means cultivating a cheerful outlook, approaching life and others with cheer, not complaining, and not focusing on the negative. Basically it's considered good form. The other is a common everyday saying -- "mustn't grumble." Self explanatory. These will both help with what we are all facing.

• How we weather the upcoming "inside" months depends a lot on ones personal perspective and state of mind. Diane's dear husband David says, "We just need to make the best of every day."

My own dear Baheej carried a reminder to himself in his writing satchel: "Every day is a new day and it's in our hands to make it a good day." He lived by this idea and he inspired me to do the same.

• We must build another new everyday life: One that will sustain us through the winter and coming year. This will take some thought but basically it requires inventing a new daily routine, one that is designed just for you -- your interests and personality. This starts with adopting a good way to start the day (i.e. get off on the right foot), and then making a general plan or structure for the day, with activities you enjoy. It's worth having certain activities and meals for different days of the week, so not every day is exactly the same!

The point is: As this particular winter approaches, we are once again headed for a big transition in our lives and lifestyles. If bereaved, it's all the more complicated. We need to take charge of our own feelings and attitudes, and adopt a positive but practical plan/perspective that works for us.

Personally, I am currently in the process of outlining my own new everyday life because it needs to be quite different from how I've lived over the spring and summer. I spent lots of time in the yard, gardens and tending my patio pots of herbs, vegetables and flowers. So I need a fresh plan and brand of thinking. Probably we all do.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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