It happens most often when things are very quiet or I’m trying to drift off to sleep.
My mind will rehearse the moment the doorbell rang, or the phone calls I had to make, or-worse yet-imagining what, exactly, Dominic experienced when he left the road and plowed through bushes until he was thrown from his motorcycle and died.
Once my thoughts begin to follow that track, it’s so hard to derail them.
For just over six years I’ve been waiting to see my son again. Waiting for this ache in my heart to be healed. Waiting for a sunrise that brings only joy and no reminder of sorrow.
So I’ve figured out some ways to fill these waiting days. I’ve developed habits and routines to make them count for something other than empty hours ticked off on a clock face.
The pandemic has thrust many other hearts into an unwelcome season of waiting.
Here are some good habits (most of which I’ve employed daily for years!) that make the waiting a little easier and healthier:
Get Dressed. Sure it’s fun to hang out in pajama pants when you know the only meetings you might have are online and no one can tell what you’re wearing. But getting dressed signals your brain the day has begun and creates a dividing line between night and day. Trust me, it makes a big difference!
Eat Well. Don’t allow yourself to graze all day on snack foods. Make or order real meals. It’s easy to overeat when grazing which will ultimately make you feel too full, bloated and uncomfortable. Fill a plate (even if it’s a paper plate!), sit at the table or a TV tray and finish your breakfast, lunch or dinner then put the food away. Daily rituals help a heart hold on and crafting them around meals is simple and satisfying.
Do something creative. It can be rearranging pictures on the wall, placing photos in an album (something you might have wanted to do for a long time), coloring, completing a craft project, sewing fabric masks, or dragging out a puzzle you’ve had in the closet. Anything that helps you think outside the box is wonderful.
Stay connected with friends and family. I know it’s not the same. FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram and whatever other social media apps may be trending right now are no substitute for face-to-face meetings and warm, in-person hugs. But they are the best we can do right now. And they are absolutely, positively better than nothing! Take advantage of all the ways you can reach out to those you love. Share funny stories or memes. Let your loved ones know how your day is going.
Do your hair and makeup. Well, I might not be the best person to recommend this particular practice since I don’t wear makeup unless it’s a very special occasion. BUT–if you wear makeup on a regular basis, do the minimum. It’s another way of helping your brain and psyche draw a line between day and night, work and relaxation. Doing your hair might just be putting it in a ponytail or clip but get it out of your face. At least run a comb or brush through it.
Get some fresh air. There is NO substitute for outdoor air. Too much time cooped up indoors makes even the most sane person a little crazy. Walk, ride a bike, run, skip or hop your way around the block or in the park. If moving is too hard on your joints or your balance or your heart, then sit outside in the sun and breathe deeply. It’s a wonderful way to reset your mental attitude and get some Vitamin D.
Unplug devices and walk away from the screens! Too often we are stuck in echo chambers that reflect back fear and mistrust of the “other side”. Social media algorithms feed us what they think we want to see. The 24/7 news cycle thrives on half-truth headlines that encourage viewers to tune in for the “rest of the story”. It is possible to learn everything you NEED to know in about five minutes online. Leave the rest for those that enjoy drama, intrigue and worrying about every little thing.
Reach out. If you feel yourself falling down a black hole into the pit of despair, tell someone.It’s scary to risk rejection or judgement. But I think you will be surprised to find that most of the time you will be met with grace and compassion.
For many folks it’s the first time in their lives they’ve been forced to come face to face with the truth we really have little control over anything.
Some of us can’t leave our homes, most of us aren’t supposed to.
Some long desperately to hold grandchildren but social distancing means only a long distance wave (if you’re lucky) or FaceTime on a screen. Some want to visit parents or grandparents in eldercare facilities but are forbidden lest the virus be ushered through closed doors and run rampant down the halls. No local gatherings. No play dates for kids. No school routine (who thought they’d miss nightly homework battles!). Work from home or no work at all.
Parents are suddenly with their childrenALL DAY LONG.Some children are suddenly imprisoned 24/7 in unsafe homes-no escaping to school for a few hours respite.
And toilet paper. Lots and lots of toilet paper (for some, apparently) and none for others.
The people who are supposed to have the latest, best information seem like either they aren’t getting it, reading it and digesting it or they really don’t know what they are doing.
Social media is allowing some front line workers like doctors, nurses and paramedics to publicize snapshots and give commentary on the inside of ambulances and hospitals and it’s truly frightening.
And oh, by the way, if your person gets sick enough to be wheeled away from home and inside those big doors, you can’t follow. No matter how sick they are, you can’t sit by the bed and hold their hand.
Is it any wonder many of us are not only stir crazy but crazy sick with worry, fear and anxiety?
So, my friend, I want to know-really truly know-how are you doing?
How are you managing under the stress and strain of unwelcome change you can’t control?
What is helping you hold on?
What is making it harder?
I know some who gather in this space are not praying people and that’s OK. I’d like to share a prayer anyway, if you’ll let me.
Because that’s how I hold on. ❤
This is such a fearful time.
Too many changes too fast and more coming every day. An invisible enemy is stalking those I love and there’s really not much I can do about it except to follow the best advice being tossed out by people who are supposed to know but who don’t really inspire a lot of confidence.
I’m afraid of what I know and afraid of what I don’t know.
I’m petrified someone in my intimate circle will fall ill and I won’t be able to be with them. My job may be in danger too and I might not make my bills. My kids are confused and I wonder how all these months of no school is going to play out next fall. The list could go on and on.
Help my heart hold onto hope. Help me find a bit of joy-the rose among the thorns-each day. Sandwiches on paper plates with the whole family. A breath of fresh spring air through open windows. A funny meme sent from a friend far away so we can share a laugh even if we can’t share a cup of coffee.
Let every sunrise remind my heart that the world is still turning and no night lasts forever.
I was talking to my dad the other morning as I do every morning.
We catch one another up on personal news and then turn to the world at large.
After another day of dismal and disconcerting headlines I asked my retired fighter pilot/flight instructor/still flying/recently bereaved dad, “So, how are you REALLY doing?”
He replied, “I’m flying the plane.”
He told me the first rule of flying was: NO MATTER WHAT– never, never, never stop flying the plane.
Even if the only thing you can do is fly it into a crash.
Focus on the essentials.
Don’t be distracted by incidentals.
Save all your energy for the things you CANdo something about and ignore the things you can’t control.
As he was talking I realized that somewhere in my 56 years he had taught me this lesson well although he’d never taught me to fly.
So that’s what we are doing.
It’s what we’re all doing.
We are taking care of the things we can and trying hard to not waste any energy on things we can’t. We’re checking on one another, encouraging one another, making sure each one is getting proper nutrition and rest and refusing to sweat the small stuff.
I can’t see my ICU nurse daughter because she’s possibly been exposed to the virus and I am immunosuppressed.
So I dug through my stash and sent her and the foster kids she helps her best friend parent a box brimming full of random craft supplies to stave off boredom.
It’s not much but it’s something I CAN do.
I’m walking every day and keeping my cardiovascular system as fit as possible.
I’m writing and posting on several public Facebook pages I maintain. One is dedicated to bereaved parents, another to general spiritual encouragement and a third to educational resources for parents who suddenly find themselves having to teach their children at home when they were used to sending them off to school.
I have cleaned out a few random corners that should have been cleaned months (let’s be honest-years!) ago. And I’m checking in on friends and neighbors.
My public health officer son is running crazy so I don’t bombard him with texts or messages but I try to shoot him at least one encouraging word every day. He calls when he can and just last evening treated us to a FaceTime session with our little Captain.
Seeking joy wherever we can find it is part of our daily routine. And nothing says “JOY!” like this happy smile.
My husband is working from home (THAT’S an adjustment for this women who loves her quiet time!) so I fixed him up a work station and make sure I don’t interrupt his conference call by hollering something from the kitchen (or vacuuming under his feet). He’s making some adjustments to my preference for light-hearted viewing in the evenings and saving his heavier, action-packed choices for after I go to bed.
Kind of a trial run for his retirement.
The son that lives close by has become our errand runner and grocery store shopper.
He picks up what we need, being extra careful to clean his hands and clothes before bringing it into the house. He shopped for our elderly neighbor as well. He’s doing his part to maintain a buffer between those of us who may be more susceptible and the virus.
Flying the plane means we are keeping our wits about us, doing the important and necessary things.
But it also means we are finding moments to take a breath, enjoy a laugh, watch a sunset, go for a walk, listen to the birds sing, play with the dog or cats, share a funny meme, and eat meals together.
We can’t control the world but we can control our reaction to what it tosses our way.
We can’t guarantee our safety but we can choose to do things that enhance it.
No matter how a child leaves this earth, it’s traumatic.
And trauma rewires our brains.
The “fight or flight” response that had previously been reserved for truly life-threatening situations gets woven in with memories and feelings and our bodies remain on high alert.
So before we know it, all kinds of ordinary, daily, and definitely not life-threatening situations evoke rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, anxiety and fear. And the absolutely reasonable response is to get away from those things that make us feel that way.
So we do (or try to!).
We find ourselves running away from people who love us, who want to help us but who just might not understand why we’re running. We cocoon in our homes, in our own bodies and try to find that one safe space where fear and anxiety can’t find us.
But there is no such absolutely safe space.
Trauma rewires our brains, it’s true.
They can be rewired again.
So many good therapies are available for those of us who suffer in silence. Many are based on using physical cues to help a brain learn to distinguish between truly dangerous and only the memory of dangerous.
It is possible to venture out in the world again, to reach for and sustain connection, to lean into company instead of shying away.
While I certainly had no real idea in the first hours or even weeks what losing a child entailed, I understood plainly that it meant I would not have Dominic to see, hold or talk to.
I wouldn’t be able to hug his neck or telephone him.
He wouldn’t be sitting at my table any more.
But the death of a child or other loved one has a ripple effect. It impacts parts of life you might not expect. As time went on, I was introduced to a whole list of losses commonly called “secondary losses”.