Doing What Needs to Be Done

Today I finally went for a walk.  This is something I have been telling myself I was going to do every day for I don’t want to tell you how long.  I used to walk all the time.  It was my preferred mode of exercise and I loved getting out and getting a chance to clear my head and just breathe.

Somehow I got out of the habit and it became a chore.  I used to look forward to it; now it was just one more thing to do.  It’s funny how something that is so enjoyable and freeing one minute can feel so heavy and demanding the next.

If you are grieving, you probably know how that feels.  Even simple things can seem like complicated tasks.  Small problems become huge mountains.  As life keeps moving on all around you, you just want everything and everybody to slow down and give you a break.  Finding ways to keep up while keeping sane may feel almost impossible.  I know there were times I wasn’t so sure that I wasn’t losing my mind, running from home to job to kid stuff to other family things to home etc.

As hard as it may be to do, it’s critical that you allow yourself whatever time you need to get done what has to get done and let go of the rest.  The key is, you really have to be the one to be willing to let things go.  Maybe the house isn’t so clean or the lawn isn’t perfect or you don’t get to the gym as often or…. you fill it in.  I’m not talking about just not adding things to your “to do” list now but about taking stuff off the one you already have.  Ask for help, get off of committees, say no- all those things everyone always says to do but no one ever does.  If there was ever a time to do them, it’s now.

And just to be clear, I’m not just talking about in the first few months after you have lost someone.  That will probably happen naturally as you’re too upset or exhausted and people don’t really expect otherwise.  You need to continue to give yourself that “break” long after so you have the time and space you will need for your grief as time moves on.  You may be surprised at how quickly people will start expecting you to be back at it and you will need to set your own boundaries about what you will and won’t do.  Grieving takes a good amount of physical and emotional energy no matter how strong you are.  Give yourself the gift of time to make it a bit easier.  Remember, this is your life and your loss- you get to decide how you will handle it.

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Looking “Out There”…

As I am sitting here drinking my morning tea, I am distracted by this show on the TV, the Nate Berkus Show.  It’s one of those morning shows where the host shows you how to decorate your home, cook the perfect meal, dress in style, do charitable works- the typical American morning show.

I don’t usually watch these things.  It’s on because my son, who of course has left the room, put the TV on and it landed on this channel.  I just haven’t bothered to turn it off.  Although I do find some parts interesting, especially the cooking, I am usually reminded by how obsessed we can get with “things”; how we are constantly looking for something “out there” that will make our lives better, more beautiful, happier because what we have already is not enough.  And how sad that is as any of us who has lost someone dear knows.

How many times do people look back after someone dies and wish they had spent less time working and more time talking and laughing with him or her?  And all the fretting and stress we cause ourselves about not being able to provide all these “things” for our loved ones, feeling like we are not striving hard enough or don’t care enough if we don’t.

In my worst of times, I have had to take time off from working so our income has been diminished and our home has been in disrepair. I allowed myself to fall victim to this sense of embarrassment, not wanting to let people see us not at our best, lest they think poorly of me.  I know all of the clichés that my true friends wouldn’t care but…I would not have thought that I would have let myself give in to this.  But grief attacks your self-confidence and can make you behave in ways you would not have thought possible.  At the very time I needed to invite people in, I shut people out.  In this case, due to my physical surroundings and succumbing to the societal pressures around me.

So forget the clichés and take it from the heart that people who love you don’t care if your house is a mess- they will help you clean it.  They don’t care if you look like a model- they will take you for a haircut.  They don’t care if you cook them dinner- they will cook for you.  Don’t be distracted by what you see on TV or in the magazines about who you are supposed to be.  Just be.

I’m no hero…

Sometimes I feel like a complete failure.  I feel like I have let the the past and all those struggles with grief get the best of me.  After all, I am no shining light, out there in the world saying “Hey, look at me – I lost my dad when I was young and my baby died and I had all these miscarriages but I wrote this great inspirational book and I built this great foundation and…” well, you get the picture.  It seems like everybody who suffers some big tragedy today writes a book or starts a charity or does some big, incredible work as a result of it.  And I have just wondered all of these years, how do they do it?

When I think about how hard it can be just to get out of bed in the morning or to try to remember to keep smiling and really act like you want to play when your other child is tugging at your sleeve even years after your baby has died and someone just said “You’re so lucky you don’t have girls!”, how do they do it?

When I think about having to get 1 child to hockey practice at 5:00 in the morning in a town an hour away, another to a ski slope 2 hours in the other direction 3 hours later, and yet another to a birthday party 2 hours after that, all in a car that’s 10 years old and you are still trying to understand how someone suddenly dies at 45 years old from a heart attack, how do they do it?

When I know the realities of grieving and the powerful grip it has on your heart and soul and all the strength it takes to rise above it, how do they do it?

Our society loves heroes.  There can be great pressure to feel like you have to be one or that you are supposed to “do” something when you have experienced something bad or traumatic.  You don’t.  All you have to do is take care of yourself, then take care of those around you who you are responsible for, like your children and your pets.  That’s it.  You don’t have to be a hero and save the world.  Just by being a whole, healthy person again who can find some meaning and hope in life you will be saving a piece of it.

Change

Change can be tough even under the most ideal circumstances.  Although variety can be the spice of life, we all like things to be calm and relaxed and familiar.  For some this is even tougher than others.  We can become very set in our ways and rigid as we age, making change even harder- one of the reasons why older people can be so resistant about leaving their homes to move to totally strange, new surroundings.

When someone you love dies and is suddenly, or even not so suddenly, gone from your familiar world, the change that comes is drastic.  It is not something that you can get used to in a few days or months, maybe not even years.  It’s not like you’ve just redone the house and the yard- it’s like you moved to a whole new country where people are speaking a language you don’t understand.  Even their everyday behaviors can seem strange and distant to you.  Over time, you will meet many new and different people and figure out how to relate to them.  Some of those experiences will be good and some, not so much.  You may find yourself at times standing in the middle of a room, surrounded by strangers, feeling like you stick out like a sore thumb, wondering “what am I doing here, what happened to my life, why did this have to happen, why now, WHY???”

The toughest part about this trip is that you didn’t choose to take it and it will take you a while before you finally unpack your bags and realize that you are here for the long haul. There’s no return ticket.  But one thing I can assure you is that if you keep looking around, you are bound to bump into some other people from that same place you came from who are also just learning the language or who maybe have been there a bit longer and can help you along.

I know it can be really hard to ask for help, especially when you feel so wounded or vulnerable or angry but finding someone who’s been through the same thing as you and asking for some support is one of the best possible things you can do to help you get through this terrible time in your life.

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