I recently received a couple of booklets from dear friends. They are both written on the topic of grief. I really appreciate a few things about these booklets: they are both short, they have a big font size, and are double spaced. Perfect. I read each one in one sitting. And I felt better as I was reminded that all the emotions, physical exhaustion, and reduced mental capacity I am experiencing are normal. And natural. And needed. I have made the grief journey before and learned a great deal then. My Mom died of ovarian cancer when I was 30. She had a four year battle through chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. And then my Dad died when I was 36 – of prostate cancer. Grief upon grief. It was a long ten years. But just as diamonds are formed under the earth’s pressure, so my faith grew greater through the pressure of dealing with the realities of my parents illnesses. We all have choices to make – it is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. So it was during those challenging times that I started to experiment with making the daily (and sometimes minute by minute) choice to trust that God will take care of me regardless of circumstances. I decided to take grief and all it involved head on. One thing I learned early on about emotions is that they are here and then they are gone. So in the sad times, I know one thing is for sure – the feelings won’t last forever. I gained courage and confidence that no matter how bad I felt, they would eventually lessen. There is a physical exhaustion that comes with grief that is very real and sometimes paralyzing. The simple tasks of life take great energy. Just writing up my goals for the day is just as tiring as actually accomplishing just one of them. The thought of a phone call makes me want to take a nap in preparation and then another one to recover. I find it hard to walk down the driveway to get to the mailbox. And then the mail sits on the counter for another day before I open it. Rebecca and I went to get a Christmas tree on Saturday. It still sits on the top of the Tahoe three days later. Today we laughed about hanging ornaments on it and leaving it there. Makes for easy clean up after Christmas! Reduced mental capacity is something I am experiencing now. When I traded in my car last week, a friend came with me because I knew the numbers would overwhelm me. Simple math becomes complex for me and mental mistakes occur frequently. Memory lapses and a fog has settled over my brain. I feel like my mind has gone elsewhere but didn’t tell me where. So I live in the fog and do my best, being gentle with myself. Social situations continue to be challenging. Especially in large group settings where I don’t know many people. I cannot make small talk right now. But I desperately need to be with people who know me best. And who won’t be offended when I am hit by the fatigue truck. Perhaps that may be why email and text messaging work well for me right now.
I had a conversation with a friend about what a typical day looks like for me right now. Here it is 2:15AM and my day has already started. I slept hard for about 3 hours already tonight and now I am awake. I will fall asleep again soon and will probably wake up around 6AM. I will try to doze off again for a little bit and then I am up for the day. I typically wake up with a sense of great expectation for the day. It is a good thing because I know that each day will bring me closer to a healing of my broken heart. I read my Jesus Calling devotional book. Then I remind myself that it is time to eat breakfast. I don’t have a big appetite so I play this little game where I try to eat something every time I drink a glass of water and vice versa. We’ll see how that works. And then I am ready for a nap – which I never take. So I check in with Rebecca, Caleb, and Molly. And I take an hour to do administrative work from my to do list. Typically that evolves into hours long process of phone calls, emails, and whatever needs to be done to accomplish any particular task due to the bureaucracy. And then I have to remind myself to eat lunch. But then I have to make it. And I am ready for a nap…which I don’t take. I plan a visit with a friend several times a week in the afternoon. But wow I get tired! So I start to think about what we are going to do for dinner. But I get tired and want to take a nap – but it is too late in the day. So we find something to eat…and I drink my water with it and feel like I’ve accomplished something! I have good intentions of doing one hour of thank you notes each evening but I find it tiring to do more than two or three at a time. So that is what I do. I end the day with writing down what I am thankful for on that day and I do some reading until I can no longer keep my eyes open. Before I know it, I am awake around 1:00AM and feel like writing. So here we are. In short, I find that every day is different. There is no routine. There is no rhythm to my days. I set my goals and make my plan but once that is done, I know I need to be flexible and do what needs to be done to take care of myself.
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned the booklets I read. Here are the titles: A Time to Grieve by Kenneth C. Haugk and Discovering – Permission to Grieve by Doug Manning. Here are a few thoughts that have been helpful for me:
- It is surprising how much physical pain there is in grief
- Grief is a monstrous and frightening attack. Our whole being seems under threat and we are forced to concentrate on our own survival. Your own pain must take precedent over almost everything else. Finding ways to survive will rightfully be job one during the days ahead.
- No one can say how long your grief will last. You will walk through this process in your own way and on your own schedule.
- Grief comes in waves. In grief, we fill up and a new wave must be cried out. We get some relief and then we get filled up and another wave hits. There seems to be no reason or pattern to the waves. Often they hit at the most inopportune time and place with little or no warning.
- Your social world has changed and suddenly every relationship is different
- There is no normal in grief. There is no right way to feel. So feel what you feel. Fighting your feelings will intensity them and create a great deal of anxiety and fear.
- Grief is transitional.
- “Brown out” is real. Your mind is in overload and at times it may shut down.
- When a wave of emotion comes, our bodies secrete the hormone Cortisol. This causes your mind to whirl like a gerbil in a cage. It dehydrates your body, affects our appetite, and saps off about 60% of your energy. Sleep becomes a fitfull bursts and Cortisol can also affect your blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
- Exercise helps. Drink more water. Journal.
- Grief ignored does not go away. If ignored, it will come out in another way – usually through illness or depression.
- Find “safe” people. They are the ones who simply listen. They will Hang around, Hug you and Hush. You do not need advice. You need ears. Someone to just quietly hear your pain.
- True strength doesn’t mean being unemotional and fiercely independent. It is letting yourself be human, recognizing your own limitations, and allowing others to help you when you really need it.
- God never intended us to suffer alone.
This has been a very LONG post. It’s now almost 3:00AM so it is time for more sleep. I am sure I will rest well now.