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.

It’s OK-Yell, Scream and Throw Things!! (Just Not at People)

A mom who is also coming up on her season of sorrow this spring wrote that she felt like screaming and throwing things.

I get it.

And because I live in the middle of the woods, far from neighbors or nosy passers-by, I’ve done it.

Read the rest here: Go Ahead-Yell, Scream and Throw Things!

Please Accept My Apologies

I used to be a lot better at answering every single comment on the blog, on Facebook pages and in closed groups.

I’m not keeping up at all these days.

And I am very sorry for that!

A recent private message reminded me that some folks may think a lack of response is disapproval or rejection. That made me very sad so I want to set the record straight.

These past few months have been…different.

And challenging.

And topsy-turvy.

My husband retired-which is a good thing. But for the past several years he was working out of town so not only am I adjusting to his being home every day, I’m adjusting to his being home at all.

We’ve worked out a schedule that accommodates his night owl habits and my farm girl hours so that’s going well.

The pandemic, wintry weather and the holidays have dampened my spirits a bit so motivation is a factor.

My recent hospital stay, wrist pain and realization that my hands are simply not going to get better make typing more difficult.

All that to say this: I’m really sorry for not being more attentive, more timely and more responsive to comments. I read every. single. one.

I’m going to try hard to catch up.

If you feel overlooked or are ever concerned there’s something else going on besides my own preoccupation, lack of diligence or oversight, PLEASE message me!

I never, ever want a single heart to feel sad or abandoned because of something I do or don’t do.

I promise you are important to me.

Grief’s Physical Toll

I don’t know about you but my face and my body tell the tale.

It’s a story of stress and strife and it’s not pretty.

I look at photos before and after and see grief written all over the pictures taken since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.

There’s an old saying in the South when you see someone who looks exhausted and unwell: “She’s been rode hard and put up wet.” My horse loving friends will get it right away.

For the rest of you this is what it means: When a horse is ridden hard or worked long, it sweats. The kind and appropriate thing to do is to walk the animal until it dries off and then stable it. Doing so means the horse’s muscles have time to recover from the exertion and helps prevent injury or lameness. If a horse is repeatedly “rode hard and put up wet” it begins to show in her performance, resilience and ultimately, in longevity.

Living with child loss is definitely a hard slog through difficult terrain.

While my burden is not nearly as hard to carry TODAY as it was in the beginning (six years ago) it still adds significant resistance and requires more effort when doing everyday tasks or facing new challenges.

And I rarely have the ability or capacity to treat myself to a “cool down” period because my to do list is long and the days seem short. Life just doesn’t let up.

It has taken a physical toll.

I tire more easily-physically, emotionally and mentally. I am less resistant to illness. My chronic disease has progressed more in these six years despite aggressive treatment than the decade previous to Dom’s leaving. I don’t handle change well. I am more prone to call it quits, give up and give in when things get tough instead of powering through. I have a drastically shortened attention span. It’s hard to remember details and words-I write things down so I won’t forget. The lines in my face have deepened and multiplied. Sometimes getting out of bed is the bravest thing I do all day.

I could list at least a dozen more ways grief impacts my body but you get the idea.

Dealing With Physical Grief Symptoms Whats your Grief

Grief isn’t *just* an emotional response to loss.

It’s physical too.

So if you are noticing your body doesn’t act like it used to, you’re not alone.

Bereaved Parents Month 2020: Physical Manifestations of Grief

Grief is not *just* feelings. It is so much more.

I shared this last year around this time in response to many, many comments and questions from bereaved parents about what felt like random or unusual physical manifestations of their own grief.

I hope it helps another heart navigate this life none of us would choose.

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.  

Read the rest here: Bereaved Parents Month Post: Physical Manifestations of Grief

Go Ahead-Yell, Scream and Throw Things!

A mom who is also coming up on her season of sorrow this spring wrote that she felt like screaming and throwing things.

I get it.

And because I live in the middle of the woods, far from neighbors or nosy passers-by, I’ve done it.

Sometimes I walk in the woods and just holler out my questions, my pain, my indignation that this is my life.

Image result for yelling images

Other times I cry as loud as I want to, not trying to hold in the sobs.

When I’m really angry that it will soon be seven years since Dominic has crossed the threshold of home, I take old eggs and toss them at trees. I work myself to a frazzle stacking sticks to burn. I use my clippers and chop away at underbrush, releasing pent up feelings with every satisfying snap of a twig.

Image result for throwing eggs image

The longer it is since his leaving, the more I feel I need to have it together in public. Others have long moved on and my tears are inexplicable to those who have forgotten.

And while I have gotten stronger and better able to carry this load called “child loss” this time of year makes it all fresh again.

The pressure builds with no place to go.

It’s going to force its way through the weakest part of my character if I don’t release it on purpose.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is angry.png

So I do.

If you need me, I’ll be outside for the next few weeks.

If you hear something, don’t worry.

I’m just letting off steam.

STILL A Mess Some Days…

This post was originally written three years ago. While the details or occasions change, I still find some days I’m a mess.

It’s not nearly as often as it once was and for that I am oh, so grateful.

But the holidays, in particular, seem to make it extra hard to maintain my composure when stress or fatigue are added to missing Dominic.

The other day a conversation about the upcoming holidays devolved into a confrontation.

What I was trying to communicate came out wrong and one thing led to another until I fled- a crying, trembling mess. 

I am trying so hard to manage this life I have left. 

Read the rest here: Some Days, I’m Just a Mess

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. ***

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  ❤