Spoon Theory Applied to Bereavement

I thought I would follow up yesterday’s post with another one to help folks recognize when they NEED to rest.

I don’t know about you but I have a hard time figuring that out sometimes.

One approach that has helped me is something called “Spoon Theory”.

Spoon Theory was first described (as far as I know) by Christine Miserandino of butyoudontlooksick.com.

The original article pertains to chronic illness.  But when I stumbled across it a couple years ago it really clicked with me.

The basic idea is that everyone starts with a finite number of “spoons” representing the energy, attention and stamina that can be accessed for any given day. When you do something, you remove a spoon (or two or three) based on the effort required.  When you have used up all your spoons, you are operating at a deficit. 

Like a budget, you can only do that so long before you are in big trouble.

The only change I would make is to say that in the first months and years, most bereaved parents have far fewer than 12 spoons. 

Grief uses at least half of them by itself.

But it’s helpful for me to recognize that I do not have an infinite supply of energy and stamina regardless of what I think has to be done or how many more hours there are in a day.  I’ve written about that in this earlier post:   Emotional Bankruptcy: I Can’t Spend the Same Energy Twice

And I think it’s a great graphic to show to family and friends so they can understand why we simply CAN’T do everything we used to do.

spoon theory

 

Repost: No. It’s a Complete Sentence

When news that Dominic left us spread, our yard was filled with friends and family here to help bear the burden of grief and loss.

Our house was bursting with people and food and phone calls-more coming and going than our gravel lane had seen in a lifetime of living up in the woods.

It was beautiful and terrible all at the same time.

Read the rest here:  No. It’s a Complete Sentence.

Feel and Deal to Heal

If I touch a hot stove my hand jerks away almost before my mind registers the searing pain.  It’s reflex.  Our bodies were designed to react to and protect us from things that cause pain.

Run away.  Don’t go back.  Set up barricades and warning signs so that others can be protected.

Most of the time, this reaction serves us well.

But sometimes those reflexes keep us from healing.

Anyone who’s had major surgery knows that when the nurses come in the next morning saying, “We’re going to get you out of bed today!”, the last thing you want to do is swing your legs over and stand up.  It HURTS!

We want to avoid what hurts, not embrace it.

So it’s no surprise that when we suffer deep emotional wounds, our first response is to try to run away or bury them or ignore them.  The last thing we want to do is face them.

But if I am to heal, I have to face them.  I have to take hold of each place where the dagger of grief and sorrow and regret and anger has pierced my heart and examine it closely.  I have to decide what to do with it, how to integrate it into my life after loss.

Grief is work!  That is one of the reasons grievers need solitude as well as companionship on this journey.  And that is why grief can’t be hurried along.  It takes a great deal of time to do the work grief requires.

If instead of facing our pain, we try to run away or distract ourselves or numb ourselves with alcohol, food or drugs, we only prolong the process.  Grief will not be ignored forever.

healing doesnt mean damage never existed

We must FEEL what we need to feel.

Then we must DEAL with those feelings-it might mean seeking a professional counselor or a trusted friend.  Online or in-person grief support groups are a wonderful resource. Journaling can help too.  But we have got to acknowledge and work through these feelings.

And then we can begin to HEAL  Hearts that have embraced and made some sense of grief can begin to beat again.  They can begin to love again and feel joy again.  They can learn to carry both sorrow and happiness-to remember and honor the missing child while also honoring and loving family and friends still here.

It’s not a “once and done” exercise.

I have repeated these steps over and over in the nearly three and a half years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven.  New feelings show up at the door of my heart and I have to choose to feel them, to search for what they mean and why they are here and then allow them to be woven into the fabric of who I am NOW-this side of child loss.

It takes courage and stamina and determination, but it is the only way forward.  

owning-our-story-and-loving-ourselves-through-the-process

 

 

Anxiety is Awful!

I’ve written before about anxiety and child loss here.  No matter the cause of death, the FACT of a child’s death seems to create the perfect conditions for a parent’s body and mind to experience anxiety, dis-ease, fear and often a sense of impending doom.

My world was rocked to its foundation the moment I heard the words, “He was killed in a motorcycle accident”.  

The worst thing I could imagine had come true.  

There was no protection from it happening again, no guarantee that THIS unbearable pain would be the ONLY unbearable pain I would have to carry.

I think my body chemistry was instantly transformed that morning to include rapid heartbeats, shallow breathing and a horrible creepy tension that climbs my spine and clenches its claws tightly at the base of my skull.

Before Dominic left us for Heaven I was not an anxious person.

No matter what happened, I generally took it in stride, looked for a solution and moved forward armed with an arsenal of choices to meet the problem head on.

Now, I can be pushed into a corner by an ordinary phone call that lasts too long.  I can feel trapped if a price fails to ring up properly and I have to wait to have it corrected by a head cashier.  I can become positively frantic when I reach in  my purse and can’t find my keys even though I know for a fact I put them there and if I look a bit harder I’ll find them.

Traffic makes my heart go pitter-patter.  The doorbell sends me flying to make sure it’s the UPS man and not another police officer to tell me heartbreaking news.

If I try to multi-task (which I rarely do) I am soon overwhelmed and have to sit down to catch my breath.

I only shop in stores where I’m familiar with the aisles and where products I need are shelved.

I check and re-check directions if I have to go to an unfamiliar address and leave with double the time needed to get there in case I get lost.  Making on-the-fly course corrections doesn’t happen.

I pull off and have to figure out where I am.

And heaven forbid the phone rings past midnight -I wake with a start and even a wrong number means I won’t sleep for the rest of the night.

This is not “worry”.  It’s not “borrowing trouble from tomorrow”.  It is not an indication that my faith is weak or I’m “caving in” to my feelings.

It’s an uncontrollable physiological response to various stimuli.

So please, please don’t judge me or other bereaved parents for making choices about where we go, when we go and how much we go-most of the time we are anticipating an anxious response and trying to beat it.  

We are doing the best we can.  

Honest.

courage doesn't always roar male liion

Repost: Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing!

You are not going crazy because you can’t remember your best friend’s name.

You haven’t lost your mind because you can’t find your car keys, or the purse you put them in, or get lost in a store.

It’s grief brain.

And it’s a real thing….

Read the rest here:  Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing!

Help! I Need Somebody!

So, almost twenty years on a farm and I can NOT back a trailer.  Nope.  Can’t do it.

One day I spent hours trying to teach myself how to do it.  Never was able to do anything other than manage to jackknife the trailer, go unhook it and start over.

So when I go somewhere with a trailer I do one of two things:  (1) I find a space where I can drive in and be able to just make a loop or (2) I find the nearest person who CAN back a trailer, hand them my keys and ask them to do it.

I feel NO shame.

But that’s not the case with other things I can’t do.  So many times I try to avoid admitting that I am unable to meet certain people’s expectations or do certain things that I either used to be able to do or feel I SHOULD be able to do.

I think the reason I don’t mind outing myself on trailers is because that confession usually gets a laugh or a knowing look from the person who helps me or an admission from someone standing near at the feed store that they also have trouble backing up a trailer.

But when I say, “I just don’t think I’m up to teaching VBS” or “I’d love to come to that event but I’ve reached my social quota this week” or “I’m still struggling with driving by that spot or eating at that restaurant” it’s often met with (at best) a quizzical look or (at worst) a comment about how I should be “better” by now.

And then I DO feel shamed.  I feel like I don’t measure up, like I’m not as valuable as the next person or that I have failed some cosmic test.

shame-is-the-intensely-painful-feeling-we-are-unloveable-brene-brown

You know what though?  That’s a reflection on other people’s lack of compassion and experience or their personal insecurity NOT a reflection of my worth.

It is really just fine for me to admit my limitations because EVERYONE has limitations.

I can’t lift a 250 lb barbell.  But I can whip up dinner for fifty people.  I can’t read Chinese but I can read Dr. Seuss with an accent and hit all the rhymes on cue.  I can’t run a marathon but I can work all day without complaining (most of the time).

I’m human (surprise!).    So are you.

brene brown vulnerablity sounds like truth

I have some limitations as a result of burying a child. You may have limitations because of age or disease or something else I don’t know about or can’t see.

That’s OK.

Let’s make a pact:  I’ll take you as you are and you can take me as I am.  I’ll help you when you need help and you can help me when I need help.

We will extend grace and receive grace as needed to make life work.

Isn’t that really the essence of human community?

brene brown we dont have to do it alone

Limping Along

Those of you who follow the blog regularly know I have rheumatoid arthritis.

It’s something I’ve been living with three times as long as the years I’ve lived without Dominic and I find strange parallels in the twin journey of chronic disease and chronic heartache.

Both are crippling in their own way, both force me to work around the pain.  Both have changed me in ways I could not have imagined and certainly wouldn’t have wished on myself or my family.

Both have taught me to endure.

Both have taught me many other things as well:  

I have learned to be more compassionate.  With pain as my constant companion, it reminds me this life is hard and that it’s hard for others too.

I have learned not to take a good day for granted.  I never know when I will wake to an RA flare, I am constantly surprised by random heavy grief days and I can’t tell when I go to bed at night what tomorrow will bring.  So when a day is good, I grab hold of every moment.  I laugh, I move, I do things that make my heart sing.  And I store the memory for days that aren’t so good.

I have learned to be gentle to myself.  I can only do what I can do.  And what I can’t do today will just have to wait for tomorrow-or maybe wait for forever-and that’s OK.

I have learned to say, “no” graciously, without making excuses.  I try very hard to live up to commitments so I am selective in taking on new ones.  I know that if I take on too many, I’m sure to have to let someone down in the end.  I can’t make others outside my disease or my grief understand so I’m learning to not try.  Their disappointment or disapproval is something they have to carry, not me. (I wrote more about this here:  No. It’s a Complete Sentence.)

I have learned to create “work arounds” for the things that I have to do but are very hard to do. For my RA that means unloading the dishwasher two plates at a time instead of lifting the whole stack at once.  For my grieving heart that means spreading out the hard things over a week instead of a few hours.  It means not feeling compelled to answer every message, phone call or text right away if my mind is unclear or my heart too heavy.

I’ve learned to wear what’s comfortable.  Whether that is shoes that accommodate my crooked toes or refusing to put on a “happy face” mask in public-I am who I am.  I certainly don’t mope around or try to draw attention to myself.  But I’m just not responsible for making other people feel comfortable with my disease or my grief.

I have learned to plan “rest stops” on my daily journey.  It may be a moment to sit down or a moment to do something creative or a moment to watch a funny video-but each thing is designed to help me recharge for the next few hours.  If I try to soldier on I end up too tired and emotionally spent to do anything.  One day of that and I may lose a whole week.  So I pace myself.

I have learned that appropriate medical intervention and treatment is not a crutch, it’s a pathway to a more productive life.  I resisted taking medication for my RA for a long time-the potential side effects are frightening.  But when the swelling, pain and joint deformity became too much to bear, I gave in.  I shouldn’t have waited so long.  It was foolish. I will never be free of the disease, but my life can be better with appropriate intervention.  It’s the same with grief.  Anti-depressants and anxiety medicine do not remove the pain of grief but they can make space in a heart and mind to do the work grief requires.  There is NO SHAME in using whatever tools are available to make it through.

I have learned to ask for help. There are a number of things I just can’t do alone.  I used to be able to do them.  But not anymore.  Asking for help is not defeat.  I have to remind myself of that.  At the end of the day what matters is that what matters gets done-I don’t get “extra credit” for struggling through alone.

I have learned to speak my truth.  (This is one I’m still working on!)  If I am having a bad pain day or a bad grief day, I don’t try to hide it.  I just tell those who ask and those closest to me the truth. The energy I have to expend to keep it covered up means less energy to work on the underlying factors contributing to the bad day.  It’s just NOT worth it.  And I’m not good at hiding it anyway.

I have learned that walking (literally or figuratively) with a limp is not a defect.  It’s simply my life.  I won’t apologize for it.  If someone asks, I’ll share.  But if not, I just go limping along, making my way forward.  I might be slow, but I’m moving.

And that’s what counts in the end.

I will walk with an emotional limp for the rest of my life … But I don’t want it to just remind me of the struggle and the pain; I want it to remind me of a place of surrender, a place where God met me and blessed me. Otherwise, it is just wasted pain.

~Nancy Guthrie, The One Year Book of Hope, p. 332