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. ***

Bereaved Parents Month Post: Physical Manifestations of Grief

It’s a well known fact that stress plays a role in many health conditions.  

And I think most of us would agree that child loss is one of (if not THE) most stressful events a heart might endure.  

So it’s unsurprising that bereaved parents find themselves battling a variety of physical problems in the wake of burying a child.  

grief head in hands and stress words

What may be surprising is how uninformed medical and even psychological professionals are with respect to the very real ways child loss intersects with chronic conditions and often creates new symptoms.  

Here is a list of only SOME of the physical manifestations of grief (via What’s Your Grief?) with my own comments :  

Fatigue.  If you’ve always been an energetic sort, you might find this aspect of grief particularly disconcerting.  This kind of fatigue doesn’t get better with rest.  I’ve written about that here. 

Some days I can barely make myself get out of bed and when I do, I struggle to do any but the most necessary tasks.  Don’t automatically dismiss this symptom as ONLY grief (although it most certainly could be!) get a thorough check-up to rule out other causes such as low thyroid, diabetes, heart disease, major depressive disorder or a number of conditions that can be treated effectively with medicine.  Don’t beat yourself up if the doctor decides “nothing is wrong” with you.  You are grieving and grief is work!  I know this symptom has improved for me over time as I’ve established boundaries, admitted limitations and learned to rest when necessary.

charlie brown too tired to cry

Aches and Pains.  Our bodies and minds are connected in ways not well understood.  Mental and emotional distress can make any underlying pain condition that much worse.  When I’m feeling especially lonely, desperate or sad my autoimmune disease flares AND my perception of the very real pain that causes is heightened.  Pain and heartache can lead to a downward spiral that is hard to undo.  Get help and treatment for the physical and give yourself grace and space to endure the emotional causes of body aches.  Don’t self-medicate with drugs, alcohol or other self-destructive coping strategies.  Reach out to a safe person and let them help you find a better way.

painlevels

Headaches.  Needless to say, stress makes tension headaches more likely.  Sometimes, though, a headache can be a symptom of something more serious.  Don’t dismiss an especially sudden, intense or long-lasting headache as “just grief”.  It could be previously undiagnosed high blood pressure, stroke or migraine.  Those being ruled out, various relaxation techniques, cold or warm compresses, over-the-counter analgesics and gentle stretches might help.

Sometimes grief headaches can be alleviated by the simple act of telling our stories.  Bottling up emotions and thoughts adds to the ongoing stress and tension of my child loss burden.  When I spill them-either on paper in a journal, in a closed online bereaved parents’ group or in person to a safe friend or family member-often I feel the band around my head relax and the pain fade away.

Tightness in Chest, Shortness of Breath.  The day I got the awful news, I remember asking friends who came to sit with me over and over, ” Am I still breathing?”  My world was spinning out of control and my body responded.  Anxiety after child loss is real. Broken Heart Syndrome is real.  Heart attacks are not uncommon.  Don’t ignore these symptoms.  But don’t be surprised if they persist despite all tests to the contrary.  When I feel trapped and overwhelmed, a walk outside or even to another room can help.  Deep breathing exercises and grounding exercises can often interrupt an episode.

Broken_Heart_syndrome_EN-01

Forgetfulness.  I wrote this post on Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing! a couple years ago and am always surprised to see it shared repeatedly.  But I think it strikes a chord with any heart walking through grief.  You are not crazy!  You are not experiencing early onset dementia (most likely).  Like other symptoms, get checked out if they persist or worsen.  But odds are, your experience falls within the range of normal for anyone whose life has been shattered by child loss.  Losing things, forgetting things, getting lost in familiar places, missing appointments or bill payments, inability to remember names of people you know well-all of these are common after loss.  In time, the symptoms usually diminish.  They have for me.  I still have to rely on lists and reminders much more often, though.  And that’s OK.

griefbrain1

Inability to Focus.  Like grief brain, this is another cognitive manifestation that’s not only annoying, it can impact life in significant ways.  Before Dominic ran ahead to Heaven, I was an avid reader.  I often had three or four books going at the same time.  I could spend hours focused on a single project.  Not anymore.  I sometimes find it difficult to read a recipe.

I have to take frequent breaks when working on something because my mind gets fuzzy and I just can’t pay attention for more than a few minutes at a time.  Some bereaved parents have to change jobs or careers because they are not able to perform necessary tasks anymore.  This particular symptom has not improved very much for me although I’ve found ways around it.  I use lists to keep an external record of what I should be doing and when.  I mix up mindless chores with ones that require more attention to give my brain a break.  I try to dissect larger jobs into smaller, manageable chunks.  And sometimes I just have to admit that today a particular thing just isn’t happening. 

Appetite or Digestive Issues.  Stress has long been linked to gut problems.  I suspect we’ve all had that “rumbling in our tummy” from time to time even before child loss.  For many of us it’s exponentially worse after.  Some bereaved parents try to stuff emotions by stuffing themselves with food.  Others can’t eat at all.  Still others experience stomach ulcers or bowel disease ranging from acute to chronic.  I was hospitalized twice in the first year after my son’s death for serious colon issues.

Again, don’t ignore sudden or persistent symptoms.  Try to eat well and avoid self-medicating with food.  Added pounds rarely add up to better emotional or mental health.  I let pounds I’d lost ten years ago find me again.  Get help if you need to from someone willing to act as an accountability partner.  I’ve recently joined a friend in setting goals for ourselves and sharing recipes and meal prep.  Try to treat food as another aspect of grief work and manage it the best you can.

the struggle bus

Getting Sick More Often.  Stress lowers the immune system.  That’s a fact.  So when bereaved parents encounter germs (as we all do from time to time) it may well be our bodies don’t have the energy or resources to combat them.  Colds, flu, strep throat, skin infections may all be more likely this side of child loss.  Don’t be discouraged to seek treatment.  There is so much we can’t control in life, but getting antibiotics for an infection is pretty easy.

It’s not in your head, mom or dad! 

Grief has real physical manifestations.   

Don’t be dismissed or denied the care you need. 

Educate your healthcare providers and insist on being heard. 

the weight of grief without words

*photo credit:  The Weight of Grief  Scupture ~ Celeste Roberge*

 

Man Proposes, God Disposes

I learned this lesson years ago.  

As a matter of fact, I had a cute little picture on my fridge of a sinking ship that said. “Another day, another disaster”.  

That was before I had actually lived through disaster. 

Now it’s engraved on my heart as well as my mind.  

I think I’m in control.  I think my “to do” list determines a day.  I think I can set the alarm and set my agenda.

But I’m not.  It doesn’t and I can’t.  

loved by the one in control

Last week I was rocking and rolling, moving and grooving.  Making molehills out of mountains and working my list.

Today I’m sitting in my chair, heating pad on my back, barely able to move. 

My body hates me.  

This is the hardest part of chronic illness and lifelong grief-I want to be able to plan ahead, make progress, achieve momentum and finish tasks.  But I just can’t.  I can’t be sure when I go to bed that the next day is going to be anything like what I hope it will be.

If you think weather forecasts are unpredictable, they are solid compared to my life.

And while I absolutely, positively accede God is in control, is sovereign, does not answer to me or anyone else and can order my life and the world as He sees fit; I would love, love, love to have two days in a row that followed a pattern of positive progress.

dear stress lets break up

So I’m just a *little* bit frustrated.  

I know I need to adjust my expectations.  

I’m trying. 

Really.  

 

whenyoucan27tcontrolthewindadjustyoursails

Sleepless Nights

For the first couple of weeks after Dominic left us, I couldn’t fall asleep.  

It was impossible to close my eyes without a dozen awful scenes flashing behind the lids. 

Silent darkness was not my friend.  

Eventually exhaustion won and I could fall asleep but couldn’t stay asleep.  Two or three hours in and my body had just enough rest to shake slumber and force my heart to face another day (even if the sun wasn’t up yet).

Somewhere around year three I finally settled into a pretty regular pattern of between five and six hours of solid sleep.  

back-to-sleep

But for the past several months I’ve lost the rhythm and am once again struggling.

Lots of changes, lots of stress, lots of physical discomfort and lots of lists floating in my head have landed me back in sleepless territory.

to do list

I wish there was a switch I could flip that made it easy to fall and stay asleep.  I wish there was a way to stop stray thoughts from invading my consciousness and my dreams.  I wish I could have a solid week of solid sleep.

I know it would make everything so much easier to manage.

I’d be calmer, more focused, more energetic and more optimistic.

But it’s a vicious cycle.  

I’m hoping long days of hard work in the summer sun will shift my body back to a better rhythm.  

Maybe. 

Eventually.  

sands of time

 

 

 

What A Difference A Week Makes!

Last week at this time I was anxiously awaiting news that my daughter-in-law and just born grandson had made it through the night.

I was following my deployed son’s journey from half-way around the world as he tried hard to make it home.

I was planning and organizing so that the son who lives near, my daughter and I could leave early Monday morning to drive down and see all of them.

And I was praying:  “Grace and mercy and strength and life.  Please, please, please God!  We need them to be alright.”

ryker lillie touching for first time

I’m still praying.

But I’m also encouraged.

My son, the new father, made it home.  His wife, a new mama, is doing well.  Our sweet baby is holding his own and improving every day.  Uncle, aunt and Mama D were able to see, touch and make much over this new little life.

What a difference a week makes!

I wish Uncle Dominic were here too.  He would have loved that tiny baby and completed our circle of love around the incubator.

dominic at olive garden

 

It’s going to be a long and winding journey from this point forward.  I’m not naive.  I know we will have peaks and valleys, good days and more difficult ones.

But our family is united for the fight. 

We are knit together with bonds of love and steel and will do whatever it takes to support one another in this journey.

ryker and family around incubator

And we are oh, so blessed by the many, many people volunteering to come alongside!  People praying, sending cards, notes and encouraging messages.  Offers of meals, gas cards and preemie baby supplies and clothes.

encouragement is oxygen to the soulAll these help hearts hold onto hope.

Thank you!

 

what-will-survive-of-us-is-love

 

If you are interested in following our journey you may do so on Facebook:  PRAYERS FOR RYKER  ❤

 

Child Loss: Good Days, Bad Days-All Part Of The Journey

Will today be a good day or a bad day?

Not sure yet.

Mainly because what usually determines THAT is something that happens (or doesn’t happen) at some point after my morning quiet time.

But whether it’s a good day, a bad day or somewhere in between, it is absolutely, completely, utterly NORMAL for my emotions to change as I make my way down the path called “Child Loss”.

As long as I am doing the work grief requires I will continue to have some better days.  

But grief still comes in waves in response to triggers or in response to nothing at all and it may be a bad day.  

waves-of-greif

How well did I sleep, rest, eat or exercise? My body affects my emotions in ways I don’t fully understand but absolutely experience.

Stress can bring tears to the surface.  Even GOOD stress can do it.  Looking forward to things, planning a party, large meal, trip or event is stressful, even if it isn’t sad.  All stress weakens my defenses and makes it harder to employ the techniques I’ve mastered for diverting my thoughts or controlling my tears.

Sunshine or rain? I have learned to count the number of recent cloudy days if I wake one morning feeling bluer than normal.  I often realize that a week or more has passed since I’ve seen the sun.

Too much interaction or too little interaction with other humans makes a BIG difference. My introvert self loves long afternoons alone, sitting in silence with a book or crochet, quiet walks in the woods and chore-filled days without music blaring.  But healthy solitude can turn to withdrawal if I let it and sometimes I realize my sudden sense of overwhelming grief is, in part, due to lack of human company.

The list is endless.  

Thankfully, at nearly five years, the better days outnumber the worse ones for me. 

But  no matter what kind of day it may be, I no longer worry if it’s normal. 

Because it’s ALL normal. 

you will have good days bad days keep showing up

 

 

 

 

Repost: The Loudest Silence

No matter how busy or how noisy or how frantic, in the middle of my chest there is a quiet place that holds space for my missing child.

It was true last year in the craziness of my mother’s health crisis and it’s been so very, very true this past eight weeks full of anxiety, discomfort, challenge and unbelievable stress.  

Read the rest here:  The Loudest Silence