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. ***

Wedding Day!

Today is the day!

All the preparation and anticipation meet under a covered outdoor chapel as my daughter and her fiance exchange vows and become one.

By the end of the evening, we will have laughed (and cried!), danced and toasted our way through this very important event.

And they will leave changed in ways they can’t imagine nor fully understand.  It takes time to grow into lifelong commitment.

It takes years for singleness to be sanded down to a perfect fit one for the other.

Weddings are fun.  

Marriage is work.  

My parents have been married for 58 years.  My husband and I for nearly 35.  None of us has a magic formula for marital longevity.  Mostly it’s been leaning into the commitment we made at the altar so many years ago even when it seemed easier to give up and give in.

We’ve all faced so many challenges in our decades together.  Some we saw coming and some landed suddenly on top of us without warning.  Life, death, moving house, illness, accident, floods, hurricanes, and dozens of smaller crises have forced us to change course, adjust our sails and adapt to new and often unwelcome directions.   But we haven’t abandoned ship.

Sometimes it’s been pure grit and determination that see us through.  Other times it’s holding on to the good things we’ve shared together.  

I’m thankful we are celebrating today.  

I’ll be tucking this memory in a safe place where I can pull it out on days that aren’t so beautiful.  

It’s my prayer that Fiona and Brandon do the same.  

fiona and brandon at farm

When life gets hard (and it will!) may they remember the promises they made to one another and weather the storms together.

Now this is the reason a man leaves his father and his mother, and is united with his wife; and the two become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24 VOICE

 

 

Repost: The Prayer of the Average and Broken

I am so thankful for my children.

While I was the teacher for their early years, they are now teaching me.

fiona and cash at home (2)

From my daughter, Fiona:

It’s tempting to look at someone doing a hard thing (like foster care) or living out a hard truth (like child loss) and label them as “special”, “brave”, “extraordinary”, or “chosen by God for a big purpose”.

Read the rest here:  The Prayer of the Average and Broken

Will It Ever Get Better?

I know that when I first stumbled onto a bereaved parent group, it was one of the things I was looking for: evidence that the overwhelming pain of child loss would not last forever.  

Some days I was encouraged as those who had traveled farther down this path posted comments affirming that they could feel something other than sorrow.

Some days I was devastated to read comments from parents who buried a child decades ago asserting that “it never gets better”.

Who is right?  

What’s the difference?

Do I have any control over whether or not this burden gets lighter?

It will be five years in April since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven and I’ve learned a few things since then.

letting-go

Time, by itself, heals nothing.  But time, plus the work grief requires, brings a measure of healing.  

If I cling with both hands to my loss, I can’t take hold of the good things life still has in store for me.  

Longing for the past all the time only brings sorrow.  I cannot turn back time.  Days, weeks, years will keep coming whether or not I choose to participate in them.  I will rob my heart of potential joy by focusing exclusively on the sorrow I can’t undo.

Daily choices add up.  When I lean into the small things required each day, I build confidence that I can do the bigger things that might still frighten me.  Making phone calls eventually helps me show up to a meeting or to church.  I strengthen my “can do” muscle every time I use it.

Doubt doesn’t disappear. Facing my doubt forces me to explore the edges of my faith.  It does no good for me to stuff questions in a drawer and hope they go away.  They won’t.  I have to drag them into the light and examine them.  Doubt is not denial.  If God is God (and I believe that He is!) then my puny queries don’t diminish His glory.  He knows I’m made of dust and He invites me to bring my heart to Him-questions and all.

My mental diet matters more than I might think.  I have to be very careful what I feed my mind.  If I focus on sadness, tragic stories, hateful speech and media that feeds my fears and despair then those feelings grow stronger.  If instead I focus on hopeful stories, good conversation with faithful friends and inspiring quotes, verses and articles I feed the part of my heart that helps me hold onto hope.

I need a space where I can be completely honest about what this journey is like.  Bereaved parents’ groups have been that space for me and have been an important component of my healing.  But even there I must be cautious about how much time I spend reading other parents’ stories if I notice that I’m absorbing too much pain and not enough encouragement.

me too sharing the path

Grief is hard.  

It’s work. 

And that work is made up of dozens of daily choices that are also often difficult.  

I don’t expect to be healed and whole this side of eternity.  But I do know that if I consistently do the work grief requires I will be stronger, more whole and better able to lean into the life I have left than if I don’t.

I want to live. 

I want to honor my son by living a life that’s more than just limping along, barely making it, struggling for each step.  

So I do the work grief asks of me.  

Even when it’s hard.  

give yourself space to do the work grief requires

 

Dispelling Marriage Myths Surrounding Child Loss

Today my husband and I celebrate 33 years of marriage.  

Our thirtieth anniversary was a mere two months after we buried our son.

Here’s the last “before” anniversary photo (2013)-unfeigned smiles, genuine joy, excitement to have made it that far:

hector and me 29 anniversary

This is us on our thirtieth anniversary, at our oldest son’s wedding -holding one another up as best we could:

IMG_2151

This is us last Christmas:  

beach hector and me and boys in sand

We are definitely the worse for wear, but we are still here.

Together.

There are a lot of myths floating around about what happens to a marriage on the other side of child loss.  The one tossed out most often cites a “study” reporting 90 percent of marriages fail after the death of a child.  

It’s just not true.

But the danger is that if you believe it is true, you may stop trying.  You may stop reaching out across the painful abyss that threatens to keep you apart forever.  You may decide that living alone with your broken heart is better than living alongside someone who may be broken in very different ways than you are.

It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

The truth is that child loss is no more likely to destroy a marriage than a list of other terrible life events-even though child loss is the most terrible.

A child’s death shakes a marriage to its foundations and reveals the weak spots. And EVERY marriage has weak spots.

So the challenge in this season of marriage-like every season of marriage-is to turn toward one another instead of away.  Choose to do the work necessary to make it:

  • Do the best you can to take care of your own emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual health so that you can come together stronger and better able to help one another.
  • Assume the best and not the worst about your spouse.
  • Allow for different grieving styles and different ways of honoring your missing child.
  • Get help from others.
  • Don’t expect your spouse to carry your load of grief as well as his or her own.

It takes energy and commitment right when we don’t have any to spare. But at least in this, we have a choice.

I have already lost so much over which I had no control.  

I will fight for what I CAN hold onto as hard as I know how.

wedding rings

 

 

Worn Slap Out

The best remedy for my heart on the days when grief rolls in like morning fog and refuses to burn off with sunshine is hard work.

If weather permits I go outside and move hay bales, pick up limbs, cut weeds or do anything that requires large muscles to accomplish the task.  The goal is exhaustion so I can sleep.

If the weather doesn’t cooperate, I’ll try to tackle jobs inside that I otherwise tend to ignore.  If you ever see me cleaning the bathroom or kitchen sink fixtures with a toothbrush, just leave me alone-I’m working something out.

So these past days leading up to Dominic’s birthday, that’s what I’ve done.

I sheared sheep, raked out a hay shed, moved hay, medicated horses, dogs and goats, picked up limbs brought down by rain and high winds, vacuumed, washed clothes, cleaned bathrooms and organized (sort of) my closet.

The ungrateful sheep and the silly cat kneading his paws while I’m bent over shearing her. 

photo (44)

Skinks are some of the happier surprises when moving hay.  Snakes and ants not so much.

 

The good thing about so many critters that eat grass is that I rarely cut it.

Now I’m worn slap out!

I think I’ll hit the sack.

fatigue is the best pillow

Road Work

One of the “fun” events this summer to happen in my neck of the woods is a set of long overdue road projects.

I’m not sure where the funding came from but my rural county suddenly decided that several roads, including the one leading to my house, would no longer suffer from insufficient patches that wore out in a week and would instead get the full treatment-totally repaved, new stripes and new guardrails.

I admit, it was a bit inconvenient.

Especially when for an entire week I could no longer travel the most direct and timely path toward the closest town because the road was closed.

And, more than once I was stuck behind that “pilot truck” crawling along a mile or so until freed from the restraint and allowed to go on my merry way.  Once I was even stuck in my own driveway, unsure of whether or not I could even leave the property due to large and loud machinery blocking my path.

BUT, it was temporary.

It was only going to last so long.  These efforts would culminate in a smoother, more enjoyable and accessible way to get from “here” to “there”.

It was not going to last FOREVER.

I learned a few things from those weeks of waiting.

One thing I learned was that I still think (in spite of burying a child) I have some control.

And when that sense of control is threatened, I resent it.

I rarely have to go anywhere that can’t be rescheduled.  But when I was sitting at the end of my driveway, trying to figure out if I could even drive out onto the road, I was frustrated. Actually,  I was downright angry that these folks were blocking my way.

Silly, I know.  But revealing.

Another thing I learned was that I could more easily endure inconvenience or delay when I chose to focus on the eventual outcome instead of my current irritation.

If I looked at the clock on my dash and counted up the minutes I spent waiting, I was indignant that my agenda was delayed.  But if I could turn my thoughts to how pleasant it would be for years when they finished this project, the minutes flew by much faster-it didn’t seem like much of a sacrifice.

Some of my waiting was done beside the cemetery where Dominic’s earthly shell is buried.

And it made me think again of how very brief life is-not only his-which was shorter than most-but even my own-should I live the threescore and ten David wrote about in Psalms.

No matter how much I have to endure in this life, it is but a moment compared to an infinite and unending eternity with Jesus and my son.

Eternal perspective is hard to hold onto.  Especially when missing Dominic is so much harder than rearranging my schedule or waiting behind a dump truck for my turn to pass down the road.

But the principle stands:  when I focus my heart and mind and soul’s eyes on forever, even this awful pain of burying my child is a little easier to bear.

If I can lift my head-or let Jesus do it for me-I can cast my gaze to the horizon of His promise.

The troubles of this life are temporary.

But the joy of Heaven is eternal.

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 MSG