The Comfort of Casual Connections: Finding Solace in Soft Ties

by | Apr 29, 2024

As you step into the cozy ambiance of your cherished coffee shop and request your usual morning beverage, the barista welcomes you with a warm smile. Familiar faces like theirs always bring a sense of solace, a reminder of the comfort and belonging this place holds for you. But now you are in grief, a deep hole in your heart and in your life as your loved one is now gone. Close family and friends have been your support, those with strong ties to your life and the life of the one you have lost. But what about those connections that are not so close and strong? 

Litsa Williams, MA, LCSW-C, in her piece, Embracing the Strength of Weak Ties, coins the term “soft connections” for these types of relationships. These are individuals in our lives whom we don’t know deeply but who still offer a sense of comfort, familiarity, and belonging. 

The article references researcher Gillian Sandstrom, and relates the following: 

Sandstrom had a personal experience in graduate school of walking past a hot dog vendor every day and saying hello. Reflecting on how comforting this tiny, daily interaction with a stranger was, she began studying this phenomenon. She found that these soft connections were associated with increased well-being and a greater sense of belonging. 

These connections encompass individuals like cashiers at the grocery store, neighbors, or even a barista at a local coffee shop—people you recognize and exchange casual greetings with, forming casual acquaintanceships. 

Grief frequently fosters a sense of isolation, not only for those closest to the deceased but also for others who shared significant relationships with your loved one. The article explains, “During such times, weak ties can serve as a lifeline. They provide a sense of normalcy and connection to the outside world. These tiny, casual interactions can offer moments of respite from the heaviness of grief.” 

Working at a cemetery, I came to realize that we are soft connections for people in grief. Our office team, who answer calls with warmth and empathy, greet callers with phrases like, “Hi, how can I assist you?” or “I am so sorry for your loss!” Similarly, when grieving families visit our offices, they are met with smiles and open arms. Our Family Services Specialists guide them into a cozy, inviting space, initiating conversations by simply asking about their situation and how we can support them. These interactions exemplify the essence of soft connections.

At the graveside, loved ones gather for the burial ceremony, while our field staff respectfully stand by in the background, poised to assist whenever needed. Their silent presence often offers comfort to those mourning, witnessing the final placement of their beloved. Though the family and friends may not know the individuals standing at the periphery of their grief, they find comfort in the assurance that someone is there to support and guide them through this difficult moment. 

These soft connections also open doors to valuable resources that can aid in the journey through grief.  Litsa explains, “weak ties provide a different kind of comfort—a gentle reminder that we are part of a community bigger than our immediate circle. Embracing these soft connections has been found to buffer against stress and loneliness and is linked to improved cognitive functioning and reduced mortality risk.” Through these ties, we hear about various resources from people who are well-connected in the community. Those coming to our cemeteries are often surprised that we offer a variety of grief support opportunities and resources that connect them with local support options they might not have discovered otherwise. 

While our strongest support typically stems from our close relationships, the article underscores the significance of ongoing support from weak connections. The article goes on to provide these useful tips concerning soft connections: 

  • Become a regular, not just by going to the same places (library, grocery store, gas station, coffee shop, wherever!), but by going at the same times.  
  • Be open to spontaneous interactions. It could be small talk with the person next to you at a conference, in line at the grocery store, or a neighbor. 
  • Say hi to strangers, especially those you see often but don’t know like neighbors, the postman, or people you see at the gym, library, church, or other places you frequent. 
  • If you’re still worried you’re not skilled at talking with strangers or people you don’t know well, remind yourself that a little practice goes a long way!  Research found that people who talked to one new person every day for 5 days reported feeling progressively more competent and less nervous.  

The next time you step into your beloved coffee shop, take a moment to observe. Soft connections surround us, from the friendly barista to the fellow patrons. A smile, a wave, or even a brief hello can bring solace to someone experiencing grief, even if we’re unaware of the depth of their pain. We can both seek comfort in these soft connections and become the soft connection for others in need.