Grief Coping Strategy: Derailing A Negative Train of Thought

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.

It used to be absolutely impossible.

But now (at five years into this journey) I have some default visualizations that help me break unfruitful mental cycles.

I might imagine details from my childhood-recreating a room or an experience-or recite Scripture, hymns or poems.  Sometimes I force myself to delineate my next day’s tasks precisely and in order.

I am always very careful what I watch, read or meditate on before bedtime because if I plant a seed of fear or dystopia it flowers in my dreams.

And then there are the days when responsibilities lead me down memory lane-going through photos for my daughter’s wedding, consolidating boxes to make room for my husband’s retirement, hunting a particular item for the holidays or another family celebration-and I have a hard time not sinking into despair because Dom’s just not here.

But at five years those are no longer utterly uncontrollable feelings.

I’ve learned ways of diffusing, distracting and redirecting my thoughts to help me deal with them in the moment: 

  • If possible, I stop the activity that triggered the feelings or thoughts and switch to something else.  Sometimes just turning my back makes all the difference.
  • I focus on a non-triggering detail.  Shifting my eyes often shifts my thoughts.
  • If in a group of people, I force myself to listen to the conversations around me and ignore my own thoughts.
  • If alone, I speak the feeling/thought aloud.  Breaking the silence can break the cycle.

Then, (often) I’ll have a meltdown later, but at a time when I can afford it better.

I’ve said over and over that the absolute weight of this burden has not changed but my ability to carry it has grown through practice and doing the work grief requires.

Sorrow is no longer all I feel and my son’s absence is no longer all I see.

Every time I overcome my fear, I redirect my thoughts, I face my feelings and refuse to let them paralyze me, I’m stronger.

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Lenten Lessons

Although I have observed Lent off and on for many, many years, it’s different for me now in a profound way.

Some of you may know that Dominic was killed the Saturday before Palm Sunday and buried the Monday after Resurrection Sunday, 2014.

Each year since then I’ve felt like I had to endure two sets of “anniversaries” because his death date and burial date are not only days of the month but also marked by moveable church celebrations.

It has been very, very hard.

As the sun rises earlier each morning in spring, the weather turns brighter and the flowers bloom, my heart grows heavier and heavier. I want to crawl in a hole and wait for the time to slide by-as if not noticing will make a difference.

But I can’t.

Life must be lived, not only endured.

So I am choosing this year to try to guide my heart gently through this hard season with purposeful action that forces me to engage with God’s Word, with God’s people and with God Himself.

I think that leaning into Lent-giving up some things, grabbing onto others-is a good way to do that.

I’m not certain what I’ll give up-as one gal commented on my wall, “I’ve already given up a child, I don’t have anything else to give”.  I will probably try to find a less-than-profitable habit to lay aside for these 40 days.

I do know what I am grabbing onto.  I am going to write 40 notes in 40 days (the idea came from this link:  Love Notes)

I am also going to be more faithful to write in my paper journal instead of only on my blog.

My goal is that I will emerge from these days free of some bad habits and bound my some new, better ones.  

Will you join me?

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