How Stress Impacts Grief

It would be so helpful if there was an app to track stress like there is to track spending.

Wouldn’t it be marvelous to get an alert that said, “Low Balance”, for mental, physical and psychological reserves like the one you can get for your bank account right before you are heading to overdraft territory?

But there isn’t.

And few of us are very good at gauging just how much is left in our mental wellness accounts which means we often keep giving when the well is more than dry.

I’d be lying if I said I spend the same amount of time crying, lamenting and bent over in agonizing pain that I did in the early days of mourning Dominic. I’ve found a way to keep him close, to trust his soul to Jesus and to (largely) live in the present instead of always longing for the past.

There are days, though…

Some days are easy to anticipate-birthdays, holidays, the awful anniversary of his leaving-and some sneak up on me. I can often trace my overwhelming sadness to a specific trigger or memory dug up in a drawer or found in a pile of photos.

Occasionally, I have a horrible weepy day for no discernable reason.

That’s when I walk my heart back through recent events and always come to the same conclusion-I’ve let myself run dry:

  • I’ve overcommitted.
  • I’ve not planned rest.
  • I’ve had hard pain days.
  • There’s been family drama.
  • Someone I love is sick.
  • I’m sick.
  • A deadline looms large.
  • There’s some major unpredictability going on.
  • I’ve counseled too many people without enough time to regain my own emotional stores.
  • I’m not sleeping well.
  • I’m doing too much and not listening to my body.

What I’ve come to understand is that stress is a HUGE impact on my grief and how I experience it.

I won’t patronize folks reading this with a simplistic (but wholly unhelpful!) suggestion to “reduce or avoid stress”.

For heaven’s sake! If we could do that with a snap of our fingers we would hardly need someone to tell us to take advantage of that solution.

Truth is, stress is often largely outside our control.

But there ARE some things I can make choices about. So I do. I look ahead at the calendar and note upcoming milestone days. I plug in doctor’s appointments, birthdays and holidays. I review every invitation to celebrations or lunch in light of what is already inked in.

I’ve learned to be honest with folks about my limitations and send a card or gift through the mail if I can’t be there in person. I sometimes suggest an alternative date and time if the one a friend offers just doesn’t work for me. I stand firm in my opinion that “no” is a complete sentence and as long as I’m kind and gracious it is not incumbent upon me to offer an explanation for why I’m turning down an invitation.

And if I have an unexpectedly hard day-from grief or activity or because of my RA-I drop back the next day to allow time to recuperate and rest (if at all possible).

The reality is that child loss means there is ALWAYS a certain low-level hum of stress in my life.

Adding to that already higher-than-average stress means it’s easy for me to be tipped into unhealthy territory.

Crying is only the tip of the iceberg.

Health problems, heart problems, relationship issues and other long-term consequences often result.

It’s not only OK for me to set boundaries to protect my health and my heart,

It’s absolutely, positively the right thing to do.

Want To Try Journaling? Here’s How.

Journaling has been and continues to be a very important part of my grief journey.

Putting thoughts on paper gets them out of my head.

Writing them down helps me understand them.

Read the rest here: Grief Journaling Prompts

Ten Ways I Survive Hard Grief Days

My hardest grief season begins in November and runs to the end of May.  Thanksgiving through Dominic’s birthday on (or near) Memorial Day are days full of triggers, memories and stark reminders that one of us is missing.

If I could fall asleep November first and wake up in June I’d do it.

But I can’t so I have to employ all the tricks I’ve learned in the over seven years since Dominic ran ahead to heaven to survive those particularly challenging months.

Here are ten ways I survive hard grief days

Read the rest here: Taking Care: Ten Ways to Survive Hard Grief Days

Yay For Naps!

Historically many of the most prolific and influential people (think Winston Churchill) have been proponents of mid-day naps.

But for a Type-A personality whose life experience has amplified internal voices that scream, “Make every moment count!” naps feel like being lazy and wasting time.

I have resisted that after-lunch malaise for most of my life because I was convinced giving up an hour or more to sleeping would rob me of vital productivity and mean my list of “things to do” would languish, undone.

Recently (very, very recently-like only a week) I’ve tried to overcome my personal reluctance to give in to my body’s need to rest and have (gasp!!!) been going upstairs, lying down and taking a nap.

I still wake rather confused, disoriented and feeling like I’ve *wasted* whatever time was spent sleeping. But I have noticed that, contrary to what I anticipated, my night time rest has become more effective and restorative.

Like many of my fellow bereaved parents, my health has deteriorated following my son’s death. I was already diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis and have been through five different treatment regimens trying to address its insidious, progressive nature in the past seven years. I’m trying to come to terms with what amounts to premature aging and the limitations that represents but it’s hard.

I’ve also (ridiculous, I know!) still not adjusted to the FACT that I don’t have as many daily responsibilities as I once had as mama to a brood of four whom I homeschooled and chauffeured around to various extra-curricular activities.

It’s just me and my retired husband.

We can eat sandwiches or skip a meal altogether.

And if something’s not done today, it can most likely be done tomorrow (or next week) with little impact on the outcome.

I’m trying to embrace a lifestyle where there is literally NO ONE keeping score.

It’s a different kind of challenge.

But one I’m working to meet.

Yay! for naps.

The rest and the spell

Grief And Self Care


Looking back I’m shocked at how much I allowed societal norms and expectations to determine how I grieved Dominic’s death.

I withheld grace from myself that I would have gladly and freely given to another heart who just buried a child. Somehow I thought I had to soldier on in spite of the unbearable sorrow, pain, horror and worldview shattering loss I was enduring.

And the further I got from the date of his accident, the more I expected from myself.

Read the rest here: Self Care in Grief

Grieving As A Family

Child loss is also often sibling loss.  

In addition to their own heartache, bereaved parents carry the heartache of their surviving children.  

The family everyone once knew is now a family no one recognizes.  Hurting hearts huddle together-or run and hide-and it is so, so hard to find a way to talk about that pain. 

Read the rest here: Grief is a Family Affair

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.

Image result for stacks of books"

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!

Image may contain: 1 person, sleeping

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.

Image result for amy carmichael quote burn out"

20 In 2020: Self-Care Goals For The New Year

I used to do this every December 31st-sit down with my journal and write out goals for the coming year.

I’d spend an hour or two jotting down areas that needed attention and then formulate a plan for addressing them.

I grouped the goals under five headings: Spiritual, Personal, Family, Community, Farm/Home.

That was Day One in the journal and the rest was filled with successes, failures, reminders, prayers, lists of actions taken or revised goals based on a more realistic understanding of how the year was playing out.

I haven’t done that since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven. I tried last year but quickly realized I was still in day-to-day survival mode and unable to look past the next week, much less a year!

So I resorted to my scraps of paper here and there with lists for the morning-happy to cross off regular chores and maybe churn out a small project or two.

I’m going to TRY again this year.

And I’m making it public so perhaps I’ll be a bit more committed to completion of these goals. But instead of all those old categories I’m focusing only on one: Self-care. I haven’t been especially good at that for most of my life and have been downright awful at it for the past six years.

My mind, body and soul are weary.

My ability to rebound is next to nothing.

So I’m going to take the advice I’d give anyone in my position and focus on what will rebuild and restore my strength, my passion and my reserves.

Image may contain: text

TWENTY SELF-CARE GOALS FOR 2020:

Spend 15 minutes each morning writing in my journal. Include something for which I’m grateful, something I need to get off my chest and something to look forward to that day. This will help me begin the day with a good attitude and without carry over from the day before. I sometimes spin my wheels trying to right something that went wrong yesterday instead of thinking about how to make today better.

Image result for finish each day and be done with it

Spend 15 minutes each morning doing gentle stretches. I need to get some range-of-motion back in the joints most affected by RA. I’ve always known consistency is key but I usually have something I HAVE to do and don’t take the time.

Drink 16 ounces of water along with my cup of coffee. We all probably need more water.

Image result for drinkmore water image

Light a candle. Both the act of lighting one and the gentle glow remind my heart that darkness doesn’t win.

Laugh every day. (Find a comic strip if I need to or watch a funny video.) Laughter is good medicine (not just a proverb, a scientific fact!). I know that on days when someone or something makes me laugh, endorphins flood my body and shift my mood for hours.

Copy Scripture daily. I’ve piddled at this in the past couple years. It used to be a daily (read NEVER missed a day no matter what) habit. Joint pain in my hands made it increasingly difficult and grief gave me the added excuse to drop it. But I miss it. Even when the particular verses don’t speak volumes to my heart, they never return void.

Reestablish a prayer journal. I kept a prayer journal for decades. And then Dominic left for Heaven. Along with other aspects of my faith, I reexamined what prayer is, why I should pray and how I wanted to pray. I’m ready to plunge back in with a new and slightly different understanding of what it will look like.

Complete one creative project each month. I’m a maker (from way back) and really need to have a creative outlet. It’s been hard to find the time (or set aside the time) for many years. Add to that ordinary life stuff and a shortened attention span since Dom left and I really haven’t made much in a long time. Creating beautiful things feeds my soul.

Walk for 30-60 minutes each day. Again, walked nearly every day for decades. All the physical and emotional difficulties of the past few years made it too easy to excuse one day and then another until I have fallen out of the habit. NO excuses in the coming year! Every day unless it’s pouring rain. (Somebody out there keep me accountable!).

Image result for benefits of walking infographic

Read for 30 minutes each night before bed. With screens everywhere it’s so easy to just scroll through “one more time” before drifting off to sleep. I used to read every single night but grief made focusing difficult and tiresome. I want to get back in that habit. I need the encouragement, mind-stretching exercise and relaxation of reading again.

Start a Grandmama journal for Ryker. I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t purpose to write some things down NOW, I’ll never do it. So I think I’ll start a journal just for him (and any other grandchildren that might come along). I’m going to set an appointment with myself every two weeks to add to it. I want to include family activities, family lore, photos and funny stories.

Organize and preserve family photos and make copies for each child. Again-something I’ve learned the hard way-is that the longer I wait, the more enormous the task will be. And while this may not seem like self-care, it is. This has been hanging over my head since Dominic left us.

Gather family recipes. I think family food and the stories behind it is a beautiful and unique way to pass on family history. I’m not sure how I’ll do it, but this year I’m at least going to get all the recipes copied and in one place.

Image result for family foodways image

Make birthdays and holidays special. We’ve limped along long enough. I was the mom (way before Pinterest) that created themed birthday parties and set out hourly activities for New Year’s Eve. With grown children, the celebrations won’t look the same (no one wants a plastic sheriff badge!) but they can be celebrations just the same.

Watch the sunset. I see every sunrise because my chair faces the giant eastern window in my living room and I’m up before the sun each morning. But sunset takes effort. I want to stop at the end of each day and recognize I made it through with God’s strength and Presence. Practice the pause.

Image result for sunset images

Spend time with my horses, start riding again. Another thing I enjoy that I’ve simply not pursued because there are always, always, always things that seem more important. But brushing the horses, working with them, smelling them and riding them bring joy. I need more joy.

Write old-fashioned letters once a week. I love writing letters but tend to forget that I love it. Old-fashioned mail is just as exciting to get in these digital days as it ever was. I want to send somebody some sunshine.

Pause for deep breathing three times a day. Resetting my body, mind and spirit gives me the opportunity to shake off any less than happy or satisfying moments earlier in the day and go forward from a new starting place. Many days can be redeemed. I don’t want to waste the days I’ve got left.

Image result for benefits of deep breathing infographic

Say, “I’ll think about it” when asked to take on another responsibility instead of always answering, “yes”. Each new activity, responsibility or promise means that something else will have to go or be delayed. I need to learn to consider whether or not I have the capacity to add and/or the willingness to take away. I will not allow these self-care goals to be set aside for more busy work.

Have at least one day per week at home, without a long to-do list, and be lazy. I don’t do lazy well. Part personality, part upbringing and a whole lot of experience while raising children predisposes me to make the most of every moment. But everything doesn’t have to be done “now”.

Some of my goals may be so personal they aren’t helpful to anyone else. But I hope some of them spur you on to writing a list of your own.

Either way, I hope my readers will help hold me accountable. My plan is to write a monthly update on how I’m doing and what adjustments I might have made to the original goals.

I firmly believe that failure to plan is planning to fail.

And in spite of my very personal, very painful experience that plans don’t always make a difference, I refuse to give in to hopelessness.

So grab a pen, grab a notebook and decide for yourself where you will set your aim for 2020.

I promise that if you do, it’ll be a better year than if you don’t.

Reminder: It’s Important To Make Space For Grief During The Holidays


We are days away from plunging headfirst into the rough and tumble holiday season.  

Thursday is  Thanksgiving and I don’t know about you, but it seems that once I eat the turkey and dressing, the clock moves faster and the days crowd one another in a race to Christmas and the end of the year.

So I want to take a minute to think about how important it is to make and maintain space for grief during this busy season.

You have to do it.  

I know, I know-where to fit it in between family gatherings, social engagements, mandatory office parties and children’s pageants?

If you don’t, though, the grief will out itself one way or another.  

So may I offer the following practical suggestions for this upcoming holiday season?

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2018/11/19/the-importance-of-making-space-for-grief-during-holidays/

Self Care in Grief

Looking back I’m shocked at how much I allowed societal norms and expectations to determine how I grieved Dominic’s death.

I withheld grace from myself that I would have gladly and freely given to another heart who just buried a child. Somehow I thought I had to soldier on in spite of the unbearable sorrow, pain, horror and worldview shattering loss I was enduring.

And the further I got from the date of his accident, the more I expected from myself.

I wrote lists of things I needed to do and surprisingly often I actually got them done.

But I crawled into bed each night exhausted, physically and emotionally drained and often unable to sleep for all the pent up feelings I still needed to process.

It was a dangerous cycle.

Eventually, through contact with other bereaved parents I learned that I absolutely, positively HAD to take care of myself. If I didn’t, there wouldn’t be a me to take care of.

And my family would be plunged beneath a new tsunami of loss.

I wasn’t going to do that to them if I could help it. So I committed to practicing better self-care on this grief journey.

I’m still not always good at it, but I’m better at it than I was.

If you are sucking it up, pushing it down, soldiering on, refusing to admit that grief takes a toll no one can ignore or deny, may I suggest you consider taking a step back and thinking about the ultimate outcome of ignoring your own needs?

Here’s a graphic to get you started.

It’s not an exhaustive list and the examples given may not suit your personality or circumstances but they should give you some ideas to find the activities and habits that will help strengthen you to do the work grief requires.