Grief Brain: Six Years and Counting

When I first became aware that Grief Brain was a real thing, it was a blessed relief!

I had long known that physical, mental or emotional stress could alter thinking and make it hard to remember things but I had never experienced such inability to hold even the most basic information in my head or found it nearly impossible to complete simple daily tasks.

It was truly frightening.

And it made life extremely hard.

I think the really, truly awful period of confusion, memory loss and difficulty lasted a good couple of years-not every day as bad as the next or the one before-but it was fairly consistent. I had to use lists, alarms and strict habits (like where I put my keys, the route I took somewhere, etc.) to make it through.

Now, six years later, it’s not nearly as bad.

That’s partly because I’ve become so good at relying on aids and helps like alarms and calendars and partly because I’ve gotten better at keeping the constant hum of loss compartmentalized in my brain so I can actually think of something else.

But if there is any added stress in the system I regress.

I forget words, names, places, why I’ve walked into a room, where I’m going, what I’m doing and (much to my horror) food in the oven or on the stove.

So if you are in the early days of loss and wonder, wonder, wonder if you are losing your mind, odds are-you aren’t.

It’s just Grief Brain.

It WILL get better.

In the meantime, use whatever helps you do what you have to do.

And be kind to yourself.

Of All The Things I’ve Lost (besides my son) I Miss My Mind The Most

Yesterday was one of those days.

I started looking for something and ended up rummaging through several other stacks, bins and hidey holes to find interesting and useful items but not what I was hunting .

It confirmed a couple of things: (1) I have entirely too much craft stuff; and (2) my mind is not nearly as sharp as it used to be.

I am a person who automatically calculates the per unit price of items, groups like things together and labels nearly everything. I used to be super organized.

It’s how I raised and homeschooled four kids.

But since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven my mind just doesn’t work the same as it once did.

I’ve written before about this phenomena: Grief Brain: It’s a Real Thing!

I really do miss the ability to remember where I put things, why I entered a room and what I went upstairs to get.

Enrique del Rey on Twitter: "Where did I come in here? What was I ...

I did find enough of what I was looking for to begin working on a tiny project for my grandson, so that’s a win.

Free pattern: Lucky Chicken softie | Chicken pattern, Sewing ...

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Most Shared Posts: Grief Brain-It’s A Real Thing!


I’m looking right at her.

know her.  In fact, I’ve known her for years.  But please don’t ask me her name.

I have no idea.

Read the rest here: https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/02/22/grief-brain-its-a-real-thing/

Confession: I Talk To Myself. A LOT.

I used to be the one family and friends hit up for a phone number or address before we all had that information in our pockets via smartphones.  

Now, there are days when I have a hard time remembering my OWN phone number, much less anyone else’s. 

Grief brain and RA fog have wiped my mind clean of not only important facts but also the ability to keep track of what I’m doing and where I’m going.

So I talk to myself.

A LOT.  

see me talking getting expert advice

It’s one way of keeping me on track and on task.  

I use lists and sticky notes and phone alarms as well, but something about talking myself through the day helps more than all those things.

I also talk myself down from anxious moments.  I repeat, “This is not an emergency, this is not an emergency” over and over when a truly non-threatening trigger ramps up the adrenaline and sends my heart into overdrive.  It is so easy to be driven by urgency if I don’t remind myself of this truth.

anxiety take your time

I remind myself out loud to be careful when walking on slippery mud or working with horses.  Even when I’m not conscious of grief, it can make me careless and inattentive.  I sometimes find that I’ve wandered into a situation where extra attention is absolutely crucial if it’s to end well.  So I say, “Pay attention!” or “Watch out!” just as I would to a roaming toddler or feeble senior.

Complicated tasks have to be broken down now.  I can’t do two things at once.  If I forget and wind up juggling things when I shouldn’t be, I declare, “One thing at a time, Melanie.  One thing at a time!”

focus on one thing at a time

Driving, I’ll calm my nerves in traffic by focusing on my own lane, humming a tune and sometimes saying, “It’s not a race.  Slow down.  Take the easy way and don’t try to get around them.”  My house is 13 miles from the nearest traffic light, so when I have to go to the city, I almost always feel nervous.

And when I get out of the car at each stop I repeat the mantra:  “Keys, phone, list, purse.”

make a list sometimes remember to bring it

I have a running conversation about what I need to do next as I walk from room to room, tidying up.  I chant, “Lock the door.  Turn off the fan.  Feed the cats.” before bedtime.

The good thing about cell phones being everywhere is most times folks probably think I’m talking to someone else. 

What I like best about cell phones is that I can talk to myself in the car now and nobody thinks it’s weird.
― Ron Brackin

Either way, I don’t really care.  

no earpiece no cell phone talking to myself

It’s how I manage to get through a day without locking the keys in the car, falling on my backside or melting into an anxious puddle on the floor.  ❤

Child Loss and Secondary Losses

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”.

secondary losses

Here are just a few:

Loss of a large chunk of “self”.  Dominic possessed part of my heart and part of my life.  It was violently ripped away when he died.  There is part of me that was uniquely reflected from him-like a specialty mirror.  I can never access that part of me again.

Loss of identity.  Before Dominic died I was one kind of mother.  I was a mother of four living children who were making their way in the world as successful adults.  I was a mother looking forward with happy anticipation to the next years.  Now I am still a mother of four children but one whose heart has been changed by tragedy and sorrow. Tomorrow is still bright, but there’s a shadow just behind it.

desimones uab family

Loss of self-confidence.  I used to enter a room without a thought to how I’d be received or perceived.  That’s definitely not the case now.  I’m self-conscious-constantly wondering if I’m saying or doing the right thing.  I never know if a grief trigger will (at best) pull my attention away from conversation or (at worst) send me scurrying for the bathroom.

Loss of sense of security.  I think every parent has moments of fear over his or her child.  When they first go off someplace without us, when they get a driver’s license, travel abroad, go to college.  But all the awful things I imagined didn’t hold a candle to the reality of waking one morning to a knock on my door and the news that Dominic had been killed.  The bottom fell out of my (relatively) safe world.  Bad things, random things can and do happen.  Once it happened to ME, it changed how I processed everything.  The passing years have softened some of the anxiety but I will never be able to assume safety again.

Anxiety

Loss of faith.  I did not “lose” my faith.  I never once doubted that God was still working, was still loving and was still in control.  But I most certainly had to drag out every single thing I thought I knew about how I thought He worked, loved and superintended the world and examine it in light of my experience of burying my son.  It took a long time to work through all the pat answers I had been offered and myself doled out to others for years that didn’t fit with my new reality.  I am learning that doubt is not denial and that I have to live with unanswered questions.

Loss of family structure.  I’ve written before that a family is more than the arithmetic total of the number of members.  There were six of us.  But we were so much more than six when we were all together!  Our talents, personalities and energy were amplified in community.  When Dominic’s large presence was suddenly whisked away, every relationship got skewed.  We’ve fought our way back to a semblance of “whole” but still miss him terribly.  We can function, but we will never be the same.

empty chair

Loss of my past.  Memories are funny things.  They are plastic and subject to change.  And my recall of an event is limited to my own perspective.  For a memory to be rich and full, I need input from others who were there as well.  One vessel of family memories is no longer available to add his unique contribution.  Every time I pull out a photo or dig down deep in my heart to draw up a treasured moment, I realize I’ve lost something I can not recover.  The joke, the glance, the odd detail are all gone.

Loss of the future I anticipated.  I’m a planner by nature.  Not a detailed, OCD, got-everything-in-order kind of planner, but a “big picture” kind of planner.  When Dominic left us in 2014, things were going (pretty much) according to plan.  Each child was well on his or her way to the career path they had chosen.  I was easing into an empty nest and exploring options for life after homeschooling.  My husband was entering his last few years of a lengthy career.  It’s hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it, but when your world is shaken by child loss, everything gets scrambled.  You can’t just pick up where you left off and keep going with the pieces that remain. 

There’s a prolonged period of confusion and everyone is impacted differently and in ways you could never imagine.  All of us have changed dramatically in the years since Dominic left us.  He is not the only thing missing from the rest of our lives.  Holidays are altered.  Birthdays are different.  We have to plan special events around uncomfortable milestone dates that roll around every year whether we want them to or not.  It’s a constant readjustment to life as it IS instead of life as I thought it WOULD be.

Loss of ability to focus and function.  Oh, how this surprised me!  I was in some kind of zone for the first month after Dominic left.  My other children were home, we had to make it through planning his funeral, two graduations and cleaning out his apartment.  I also had to handle paperwork for my husband to take short-term disability due to grief.  I cried a lot, wrote down dozens of notes but managed to do what I had to do.  Then I crashed. I couldn’t remember a thing.  I couldn’t read more than a couple sentences at a time.  I hated the telephone.  I could barely stand to hear the television.  I had to make a list of the most basic things like brushing my teeth, feeding my animals, turning off all the lights before bed.  It was awful!  And it didn’t really get better for well over a year.

I still suffer from a very short attention span, low tolerance for noise and an inability to accommodate last minute changes.  I don’t schedule anything back to back.  I live in a rural area and sometimes shop in the nearby town.  I will start the day with a long list and shorten it repeatedly as I go along because driving in traffic, crowds and random sounds ramp up my anxiety and make me want to go home with or without what I came for.  I have changed the way I do so many things.  My pre-loss memory has never returned.  

griefbrain1

Loss of patience.  I am at once impatient and long-suffering.  I have zero patience for petty grievances, whining and complaining.  Yet I have compassion for other people living hard and unhappy stories.  I berate myself for not being “better” and, at the same time, extend grace to others who aren’t “better” either.  I want to shake people who bowl over weak, hurting, desperate souls.   I don’t have time for moaning about rain when you were planning a picnic but will listen for hours to a mama tell me about her missing child.

Loss of health.  I had a number of chronic health conditions before Dominic ran ahead.  Within the first year of his departure, I was hospitalized twice.  My experience is not unique.  Some parents suffer immediate health effects (heart attack, blood sugar spikes, anxiety/depression) and some see a slow decline over time.  In part because child loss, like any stressor, will negatively impact health and also because sometimes bereaved parents stop doing the things that help them stay healthy.  At almost five years, I’ve learned how to manage the stress better although some of my health issues continue to get worse.  It’s hard to tease apart what is age, what is disease and what is grief.

When your child leaves this life before you do, it changes everything.  

Not only things you might expect, but many you’d never imagine.  

It’s a constant balancing act, readjusting every day to new challenges.  

Struggling to keep my head above the waves.  

grief like the ocean learn to swim

 

 

Why Can’t I Remember? It’s Grief Brain.

I repost this every so often because nearly every bereaved parent I know wonders, at some point, if they are going crazy.

Things that used to be second nature escape us. We can’t remember words, names, dates, how to write a check or address an envelope. Sometimes we get lost in our own neighborhood. 

It’s not early-onset dementia (for the majority of us, anyway)-it’s grief brain.  

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