Grieving While Working: Handling Grief Waves At Inconvenient Moments

A bereaved mom just a month into this journey shared that she feels bad for not being able to handle grief better at work.

She wants to be professional, do her job well and shield unsuspecting coworkers and clients from her tears.

Her question was (slightly expanded):

Does anyone have practical suggestions for how to handle the unpredictable, overwhelming, undeniable waves of grief that come out of nowhere and demand attention regardless of how convenient it might be at that moment?

Here’s my reply (also expanded):

Don’t waste what limited energy you have in these early, especially hard days on beating yourself up! There’s no such thing as a “standard for grieving” even though there may be someone here or there that tries to impose one. Don’t expect too much from yourself.

In the early days, it took every ounce of energy I had to just make it through each day I couldn’t waste any blaming myself for what I might have “gotten wrong”.

Try to find a quiet spot (if possible) or at least a focal point in the room or rooms you work in most often so you can rest your eyes and focus your breathing/thoughts when the inconvenient waves sweep over you.

Often just making a plan is all a heart needs to regain control. As you shift your mental and physical focus, your body will tend to follow.

The little 5-4-3-2-1 centering exercise for anxiety works for nearly any strong emotion.

I wore a necklace or carried a memento in my pocket every day for years. I still do that when I know I’m going into a stressful place. I could reach in (or up), take hold of that physical object and it helped me breathe, slow my heart rate and lasso my emotional response.

Finally, if a tear falls, let it.

Don’t apologize or make it bigger (you can briefly mention you’ve lost a child-if appropriate and the person doesn’t know), wipe it off (or not) and go on.

I’ve found most people follow my lead.

I am so very sorry you even have to figure this out.

It’s not something any parent should have to do.

However you manage is really OK.

I promise. ❤

***If YOU have hints, tips, wisdom or encouragement for other bereaved parents who work AND grieve, please comment! It is such a blessing to hear that another heart has fought this particular battle and is reaching out. ***

None Of This Is Easy

It gets harder and harder to be honest the longer I walk this Valley.

Because it’s natural that those for whom Dom’s death was a moment in time, a short season of mourning, an unfortunate incident they sometimes look back on with sadness and regret but don’t live with daily move on.

The further we get in time from the actual moment of Dominic’s sudden departure, the larger the gap between my heart and theirs.

I understand that.

But that chasm is more and more difficult for me to bridge.

It requires energy and effort I don’t always have to reach out and reach across and try to help them understand me.

So sometimes I just don’t.

There is always going to be a blank space where Dominic SHOULD be, but isn’t.

There are always going to be places that aren’t colored in because that part of the canvas belongs to HIM.

There is always, always, always going to be pain when I line up for family photos, set the table for family dinners, go on family trips, wrap presents, send cards, list names on documents because HE IS NO LONGER HERE.

Others think the water fills in where the stone sank down.

But my mama heart knows exactly where those ripples ought to be.

So I quietly remember, quietly mourn, quietly mark that special spot-smiling on the outside.

No one the wiser.

No one the sadder.

No one but me anything at all.

Thank You For Four Years of Faithful Listening!

Four years ago today I shared my first post in this space.

It was a timid foray into the wider world just a year and a half after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

I was truly frightened that once I began sharing my intimate thoughts, good (and not-so-good) experiences and things I was learning in this Valley of the Shadow of Death I would either (1) find out no one really cared and/or (2) offend friends and family.

But what motivated me to overcome that fear was a sense that for all the information out there on grief in general, I couldn’t find nearly enough first-person experience written in bite-sized chunks on child loss in particular.

After Dom ran ahead, it was difficult for me to sit down and read a whole book. I needed bits I could read on a single computer screen.

I also needed someone to be upfront and honest about what it meant to continue to cling to faith even when it was hard and even when it meant acknowledging doubts and living with unanswered questions.

It’s difficult to believe now with the plethora of popular books (both secular and religious) on “open broken” but four and five years ago, there weren’t many around.

So I decided I’d just say what I had to say and let it fall on the ears that might need to hear it regardless of who didn’t like it or chose to ignore it.

And here we are four years later.

I don’t know how long I’ll keep writing-probably as long as I feel like I have something to say, people are listening and my fingers can still tap-tap-tap the keyboard.

For now, writing is what I do.

Even when life interrupts almost everything else I will find a few moments to jot down thoughts and hit “publish”. I know some posts are much thinner than others-maybe just a meme or two and an encouraging word. But I want to show up in case THIS morning someone’s having an especially rotten one.

I want you to know that there IS life after child loss.

A very different life.

A harder life.

A life you didn’t want and wouldn’t ever choose, but life nonetheless.

And I appreciate every. single. heart. who joins me here and cheers me (and others!) along.

Your Story-Someone Else’s Survival Guide

Hey-I get it.

Who wants to air the good, the bad and the ugly for everyone else to see?

In today’s world where photo filters on our cellphone cameras can turn a pretty rotten picture into a magazine worthy masterpiece no one is anxious to be seen as less than polished and put together.

The pressure is on to pretend that all is well even when all is, well, going quite the other direction.

If you are trudging through a tough patch, let folks know.

You might be surprised by who reaches out saying, “That was me just a while ago. Would you like to know how I made it through?”

If you’ve already walked the long and lonely road of grief, loss, trauma, depression or other difficult circumstance-share your story!

Don’t sugar coat it. Don’t clean up the messy bits. Don’t gloss over the hard spots.

How can anyone learn to walk the hard roads, the rocky paths, the treacherous terrain of life unless someone else is willing to be a guide? And who can trust a guide that hasn’t also made that journey?

Tell it like it was.

Then tell it like it is.

Map the path from there to here.

Shine a light for a soul that thinks darkness is all there is.

Reach back and take a hand.

Help a heart hold on to hope.

Repost: Accepting My Limitations

I’m no quitter.

I grew up with the mantra, “You can be anything you want to be if you want to be it badly enough” ringing through my childhood.

I added this one for my kids:  “Failure is not an option.”

But I’ve got to admit, while both are great motivators when motivation is the missing ingredient, they are lies.

I cannot be “anything I want to be”.  I can be the best me possible, but I cannot be anyone but me.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/09/07/accepting-my-limitations/

Repost: Faking a Smile Doesn’t Make Me a Better Christian

Heartache (which is very real, and often outside our control)  crushes a spirit. 

That’s a fact, reality, truth, cause and effect. 

I understand how those who have not been visited with hard, unchangeable, traumatic life circumstances can be tempted to see only the “choice” side of this verse.  But those of us who have had our hearts shattered, our worlds destroyed, our lives ripped asunder know that sometimes there is no choice in heartache.

And we should not be guilted into smiling when our hearts are breaking. 

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/09/06/faking-a-smile-doesnt-make-me-a-better-christian/

Why Can’t I Keep My House Clean? Grief and Everyday Responsiblities

I freely admit I was never a housecleaning fanatic.

With a busy family, a small farm and mountains of paper, pencils and books scattered around I was content if the most obvious dirt was swept up and the sink free of dishes.

But, I DID have a routine.  I DID clean my bathrooms and wash clothes and make beds and vacuum the rugs on a regular basis.

Not anymore.

Even all this time after Dominic ran ahead to heaven, I have not reestablished any kind of rhythm to keeping house, making meals or doing the most basic, necessary chores.

And I don’t really know why.

I’m not overly busy.  I’m not doing other things that keep me away from the necessary things.  

In fact, sometimes I actually sit down for what I think will be a few minutes only to find a couple hours have raced by while I was doing nothing.  That NEVER happened before.

Literally, never.

I was a dynamo from the time I woke in the morning until evening-moving, moving, moving.  I certainly still have plenty I COULD do, but not so much that I WANT to do.

I’ve pondered, “Why?” and only been able to come up with a single answer: Grief is WORK.  And apparently I only have so much energy to divide between what I need to do (grief work) and what I’d like to do (clean my house, etc.).

The hours I spend “doing nothing” are actually hours spent working through feelings, thoughts, spiritual conundrums and rediscovering who I am in light of what has happened.

So I’m learning to cut corners and give myself a break.  Because it doesn’t appear that my get-up-and-go is coming back anytime soon.

Here are some practical things I’ve been doing to make daily life work:

I’ve adjusted my standards.  I have a minimal acceptable standard and apply that to my home and myself instead of trying to live up to “what others want me to do/be”. For me, it means no germy surfaces, clutter free places to sit and eat, wiped down bathrooms and clean clothes for the day.  

Anything over that is a bonus!

I take shortcuts.  Paper goods for meals to cut down on dishes.  Easy menus for dinners (lots of crockpot recipes).  I keep paper towels and cleaner in each bathroom and wipe down when I’m in there for something else instead of making “clean the bathrooms” a separate chore.  

I have baskets to catch wayward items and carry them upstairs all at once or just leave them in the baskets.  I wash clothes but don’t worry if I get them folded.  I bought more underwear and socks so washing isn’t an emergency.

I don’t apologize when someone stops by and things aren’t as tidy as they used to be or I wish they were. 

I won’t waste emotional energy on worrying about what they think.  

And when I find that I’m sitting down, pondering some aspect of loss or life or love, I lean in and do it.  I grab my computer or a journal and write out what’s running through my head.  

Because that’s the more important work right now.