New Year Goals Revisited: When Blank Slate Meets Full Plate

Oh, how I love a fresh new calendar!

It’s full of promise and lots of space for all the wonderful ideas I jot down when sitting in my chair fantasizing about how much time, energy and strength I’ll have in the coming weeks.

And then comes reality.

So even though THIS year I only publicly shared self care goals for 2020, I’m here to tell you-it ain’t lookin’ good.

I admit that many kind readers pointed out that twenty goals for anything (self care or not!) was a little ambitious.

They were right.

I got about a week into the new year when three commitments for February were added to the list. One is a scripture study conference which I will absolutely love and doesn’t require anything but my presence. One is a speaking engagement at a local church’s women ministry event (I’m working on the notes now) and another is a three day retreat for bereaved moms in Mississippi.

While that might not seem like much, in addition to daily writing, feeding critters, work in and outside our house plus administration of a closed Facebook group for bereaved parents, it adds up.

So some of those lofty goals are being laid aside or modified.

I promised accountability so here’s an update.

I’ve been much better at reading Scripture every day. Not as much as I had hoped, but more than I had toward the end of last year.

I’m walking every single day that the weather allows. I’m up to 1.4 miles in about 30 minutes and my hips have gone from screaming to only whispering their objections. I hope to make it to 2 miles most days at a pace of 15 minutes per mile. (We’ll see how that goes!)

I am limiting the number of times I automatically say “yes” to every request for my attention. I’ve even (gasp!)let the phone go to voicemail when it’s someone I know but it’s simply not convenient to talk right now. I call back later when it works better for me.

I’m decluttering and establishing a daily rhythm that supports some of my goals and learning to let go of others that apparently just aren’t going to happen right now.

I’m reading more.

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I’ve watched many sunsets and even caught January’s full moon!

I’m making lists of “Things to Do on Rainy Days” and “Things to Do on Sunny Days” and work from whichever is most appropriate on a given day. Slowly, slowly I’m whittling down my outdoor work. I’ll never be finished but I’ve stopped accusing myself as I walk the property and enjoy the fresh air.

I don’t know what, exactly, I expected from middle age and an empty nest, but I think I thought it might be a little less hectic than those years of raising and educating a household of kids.

It is, in many respects, less hectic. Most of the demands placed on me are not time sensitive to the minute or hour.

But there is just as much to do.

And perhaps that’s how it should be.

I’ve always said that, like Amy Carmichael, “I want to burn out, not rust out”.

I’ve got a new grandbaby who is going to be one in March!

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I might not accomplish all the goals I set for myself earlier this year but I hope to accomplish every single thing God has for me to do as long as I have breath.

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Do You Wonder If Will It Ever Get Better?

I know that when I first stumbled onto a bereaved parent group, it was one of the things I was looking for: evidence that the overwhelming pain of child loss would not last forever.  

Some days I was encouraged as those who had traveled farther down this path posted comments affirming that they could feel something other than sorrow.

Some days I was devastated to read comments from parents who buried a child decades ago asserting that “it never gets better”.

Who is right?  

What’s the difference?

Do I have any control over whether or not this burden gets lighter?

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/12/will-it-ever-get-better/

What Are Healthy Boundaries in Grief?

As a people-pleasing first born who hates conflict, giving in has always been  easy for me. It’s only later that I wish I hadn’t.

So for most of my life, setting personal boundaries has been challenging.

But in the aftermath of child loss, healthy boundaries are no longer optionalthey are necessary for survival.  

So what are healthy boundaries?

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/01/10/healthy-boundaries-in-grief/

Solitude or Isolation? Which is it?

I’ve always loved my alone time.

As an introvert (who can, if pressed pretend not to be!) my energy is restored when I interact with one or two folks or no one at all.  A dream afternoon is writing while listening to nothing louder than the wind chimes outside my door.

I treasure solitude.

Since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I find I need even more alone time than before.

That quiet place is where I do my most effective grief work, undisturbed by interruptions and distractions.

But I need to be careful that solitude doesn’t shift into isolation. 

I have to remind my heart that spending time with others keeps me from falling so deeply down the well of despair that all I see is darkness.

I need human interaction to keep me connected to a world that, quite frankly, I might sometimes just as soon leave behind.

So how can I tell the difference between solitude and isolation?

Here are a few questions that help me figure that out:

  • Do I feel lonely, neglected or abandoned? If my alone time feels less like a gift and more like an unwelcome burden then it may be isolation rather than solitude.
  • Where are my thoughts taking me? Being alone is often the only way to “hear” my own thoughts without having to block out the noise and activity of other people. If I am sitting with myself, processing hard things or even beautiful things, resolving internal conflict, conjuring new ways to deal with difficult relationships or situations then solitude is doing its work. If, instead, I find my mind tangled up in fearful knots, filled with negative self-talk or unable to break a downward spiral into despair then I probably need to find someone to talk to.
  • Am I getting stronger or being drained? After the holidays or other hectic seasons I need time alone to recharge my batteries. Often it is almost a day-for-day exchange. I can feel tension melting away and strength returning. My mind begins to clear and life doesn’t feel so overwhelming. Solitude grants space for my body, mind and soul to be refreshed. When it slides into isolation I can feel the shift. Instead of waking refreshed and eager to greet a free day, I wake to dreading another long one alone. Instead of energy rising in my spirit, I can feel it draining away. Instead of thinking kindly of friends and family who choose to leave me be, I’m resentful no one has checked up on me.
  • Is there a helpful rhythm to my days alone or am I counting the hours until sundown? When I’m enjoying solitude, the hours feel like a welcome opportunity to do things (or not do things!) at my own pace and according to my own preferences. I sit with pen in hand and jot down a list knowing that if I complete it or if I don’t the only person I have to answer to is myself. No pressing appointments and no worrisome commitments. When I’m isolating, the hours feel like a long march through deep mud-every step tedious, treacherous and exhausting. I’m alone but I’m not getting any benefit from it. If I’m enduring instead of enjoying then I’m isolating.
  • Do I have an endpoint in mind? When I look ahead at a week on my calendar, I try to balance alone time with social commitments. A day or two alone (or with limited human interaction) is solitude. A week holed up in the house is isolation. If I find myself pushing off needed outings (to the grocery store, to run errands) then I ask myself, “why?”. Often it’s because I’ve drifted from solitude (helpful alone time) to isolation (unhelpful hiding).

I can shift myself out of isolation by choosing just one small social interaction.

I might text or message a friend, go to the grocery store and make a point of speaking to the clerk, call someone or show up at a church or community event even if I sit in the back and slip out early.

I’m never going to be that person who is up for every outing. That’s just not how I’m made and child loss has intensified my need for solitude.

But I don’t want to be alone and lonely, sinking deeper and deeper into a pit of my own making.

Some days it’s harder than others.

But I keep trying.

How A Phone Call a Day [Almost] Keeps the Panic Away

A few days ago I wrote about how panic is always just a breath away for those of us who have suffered loss.  

Like a friend of mine recently said, “We are branded.  GRIEF is burned into our hearts and we are never the same.”

So how to live this altered life?  

How can I manage that emotional tension that saps energy and strength from my heart, mind and body?

Our family has adopted some practical protocols that help.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2019/01/08/practical-protocols-to-mitigate-panic-after-loss/

Holiday Grief Survival Guide

There are many days throughout the year that present special challenges to grieving parents.

Some are known only to their hearts and require escaping to the secret place where memories are stored and love is kept.

But others loom large on every calendar.

Thanksgiving. Christmas. Hanukkah.

Those require both invisible strength and a very visible public presence at family gatherings and other holiday events.

I’ve written lots of posts on how to make it through the holidays but I really like this succinct and easy-to-share Holiday Grief Survival Guide infographic. It covers the basics and is a helpful way to shepherd a hurting heart through the holidays. ❤

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Post Holiday Blues: When The Grief Comes Crashing Down

It’s a paradox really-that grieving hearts can be more anxious and more sorrowful BEFORE and AFTER a milestone day, birthday or holiday than on the day itself.

That’s not true for everyone, but it’s a frequent comment in our closed bereaved parent groups.

Fearful anticipation of how awful it MIGHT be can work me up into a frenzy.

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The day of whatever it is usually passes quicker than I thought it could especially if there is a big meal involved and lots of people milling about.

Then everyone leaves and quiet darkness ushers in space and silence.

That’s the moment my heart recounts all the places Dominic should have been but wasn’t. That’s when I think of how his baritone voice was missing from the conversation, his laugh from the chorus of merry makers, his opinion from the slightly heated volley over politics or another current event.

I guess it’s kind of a holiday hangover without the booze.

But there’s no strange concoction I can drink to rid me of these symptoms.

Instead I have to give my heart permission to take out each feeling and FEEL it. I have to acknowledge that even when I spend the day laughing and enjoying family and friends, I still miss Dominic.

So I try to build a day (or two!) of recovery into my holiday planning.

And that’s OK.

Whenever possible that’s exactly what I do.

So you won’t find me rushing out to shop the day after Thanksgiving, Christmas or any of our own family’s unique grief anniversaries.

Instead I’ll wake slowly, drink coffee and watch the sunrise.

I might take a walk, read a book or write in my journal.

I will definitely find moments of solitude to acknowledge that once again I have survived what I thought I might not.

And for that, I’m grateful.