Flotsam, Jetsam and Loneliness

Did you know there is a difference between “flotsam” and “jetsam”?  While they are both maritime terms attached to shipwrecks, they have specific legal meanings.  Flotsam pertains to goods that are floating up to the surface of the water when a ship sits at the bottom of the sea. Jetsam refers to items intentionally thrown from a sinking ship to lighten the load.


When I was 53, I went through a divorce.  A private shipwreck of sorts in which I saw the flotsam and jetsam of my life in vivid detail.  In one three-week period in 2013 I sold the family home, finalized the divorce, dropped one child off in college in Texas and a second in Ohio. I put my head down on a pillow in a rented condo feeling physically dizzy at the upheaval I had wrought.   While much of the detritus of a quarter century of marriage was jetsam — intentionally tossed to lighten my load; the flotsam is what lingered.  All those things which floated to the surface had to be dealt with.  One of those was loneliness.  Intense loneliness.


I remember watching the Titanic during this period and coming to the realization that if I were on a sinking ship there was no one who would usher me first into the lifeboat.  It was not a matter of being loved.  I knew I was loved by many people.  It was about being un-connected.  Even in a bad marriage a spouse is connected to a person with uniquely shared history, memories and, often, children.


I’ve thought of that period often as I sit alone in COVID-19 quarantine.  For many this forced isolation is the first time we have had to be alone.  And it’s hard.  Really hard.   Loneliness is a pandemic of its own.  It’s been around for centuries and you don’t need a surgical mask to hide it.   A “Hello! How are you? “here, a smiling emoji there; a happy hour smile, a group text meme all give the appearance of connection staving off the ever lurking loneliness.  Until a Governor’s Shelter in Place order forces us to disconnect and be alone.


In the months after my divorce I met Heather Dugan.  Heather was several months ahead of me on her divorce journey. She, too, found herself in a place of having to redefine who she was and acknowledging that no one was going to do it for her.  If loneliness was a bull – Heather grabbed it by the horns.  She recognized that she was going to face the bull or be plowed down by it.  Heather formed a group to intentionally connect women called “Cabernet Coaches.” They meet weekly at local restaurants to check in on each other and be the real friends in a virtual world.  “Loneliness is not predictable,” says Heather.  “We need to be available to each other the moment someone needs us.”


Heather has since written extensively about loneliness and our need for connection, her most recent book “The Friendship Upgrade.”  “We fill our lives with distractions,” says Heather. “When something like a shelter-in-place order happens, we are forced to spend time with ourselves.  This is scary and uncomfortable for many of us because we don’t know what we will find.”


Dugan notes that since the Corona Pandemic she has heard from people who are realizing that their social life depends on people they see at work.  “Without their coworkers their lives are very empty” she says.  What to do? Recognize you’re not alone and be proactive about filling the “people” gap in your lives.  Make phone calls.  “Texting is a poor substitute,” says Heather, “it doesn’t connect you like the spoken voice does.”   Volunteer.  A recent look at www.volunteermatch.org found dozens of opportunities to serve your community safely within COVID-19 guidelines.


Some good that may come out of this: “We’re going to be much more appreciative of the people around us,” says Heather.  “The more we can lean into this loneliness and make a good outcome, the better we will be for it when we can once again hug our friends.”


This blog is written by Kathy Chiero.  The Kathy Chiero Group, Keller Williams Greater Columbus is the proud sponsor of DownSize Columbus and Central Ohio’s top real estate team. Find us at www.OurOhioHome.com.


Heather Dugan’s Book “The Friendship Upgrade” is available on Amazon at the link below:

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